Teach the student, not the class: 3 key thoughts from OECD’s Digital Education Outlook 2021 launch event


Ádám Horváth 2021. 07. 06. 15:55

Digitalization is reshaping classrooms at an unprecedented pace. But without reimagining the way we teach kids how to succeed in tomorrow’s world, we won’t be able to harness its power – or fulfill the purpose of education. 

“What clear is, that for robots, classware, predictive analytics and the like to work effectively will require reinventing the role of teachers. Technology and AI are not magic powers,” reads OECD’s Digital Education Outlook 2021. The newly published study dissects how artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain could super-charge the global education industry, a question that was also the focus of the report’s launch event earlier this month. I had the honour of being a guest speaker at the conference, along with a bevy of policymakers, education experts and stakeholders.

Here are three key thoughts I’ve taken away from the discussions.

Teach the student, not the class

The most successful education systems will be those that let teachers choose the appropriate teaching methodology to address each individual child’s needs. In other words, educators should focus on teaching students, not classes. To do so, they’ll need new assessment tools that detect every students’ individual progress or problems as well as help teachers prepare for classes accordingly.

According to the report, “AI can help teachers, especially novice ones, read the room better and slow down, speed up, or throw out a pop quiz question when there’s a lull. Learning analytics can tell a teacher working out the next day’s lesson plan who aced the homework assignment on carboxylic acid derivatives and who needs to review it still.”

Innovation vs. reproduction: is it over for the Cambridges and Oxfords of the world?

Speed of innovation will be key to winning at education – and so will its prerequisite, interoperability. The United States and Asia have long outstripped Europe in terms of digital solutions that are capable of exchanging information and, thanks to relevant standards in place, can be used as building blocks for entire ecosystems.

The US and China make up roughly 60% and 30% of global education investments respectively, with Europe struggling to compete.

Long-standing educational institutions, such as Oxford or Cambridge, have been gearing up to provide education for 5-10 million young people via textbook based solutions and complex subscriptions. But today, a single Khan Academy lesson may be watched by billions of students in Asia or Africa at the same time. Near unlimited access to knowledge will usher education into a whole new era – one where old school will basically equal no school.

Educators should also embrace the fact that teaching students everything about how our world works is simply a mission impossible. It’s an illusion that no school should even try to achieve anymore. What they should do, however, is teach students to think, rethink and create new things instead of reproducing unquestioned truths and actions.

The new learning paradigm: AI-assisted classwork

In light of the dropping number of teachers, smart software and robot tutors might just save the day when it comes to keeping up with the education needs of the world’s growing young population. However, these technologies are no superpowers, says OECD director for education and skills Andreas Schleicher in his presentation. But they do a great job amplifying and accelerating good educational practices.

The tricky part? They do the same with bad ones, too. “AI can help remove bias and discrimination from educational practice in the same way it can spread and scale bias in educational practice. It can empower teachers to identify children at risk or disempower them from exercising human judgment. While technology is ethically neutral, it will always be in the hands of educators who are not neutral.”

In other words, the risk does not come with tech. It comes with how we apply it.

“Humans have always been far better at inventing new tools than using them wisely,” points out Schleicher. But it’s not too late to change that paradigm. When it comes to digitally enabled education, investing in tech should always go hand in hand with investing in teachers. Not to mention helping them become the “coaches, mentors, role models, inspirers and leaders” tomorrow’s students will need.


If you’d like to watch my presentation on digital trends in education in Hungary, you’ll find it here:

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