5 Reasons why even the most sophisticated computer cannot effectively replace a good teacher

Professional Development

The Infinite Monkey Theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely be able to create the complete works of William Shakespeare. However, the probability that monkeys would be able to create one of Shakespeare's masterpieces is so tiny that the statistical chance of it occurring is almost zero. Put succinctly, all things are possible, but not all things are probable.

Taking the Infinite Monkey Theorem a bit further, although possible, it is highly improbable that one could create a machine that has a powerful neural network and deeply sophisticated algorithms to replace a good teacher. According to cognitive psychologist, Aldwyn Cooper, “Despite advances in artificial intelligence, humans will always have the edge over machines when it comes to teaching.”

“I’ve helped with more computers in more schools than anybody else in the world and I am absolutely convinced that is by no means the most important thing. The most important thing [to education] is a person. A person who incites your curiosity and feeds your curiosity; and machines cannot do that in the same way that people can.”                                                                                                                 –Steve Jobs


1. Teaching is relational; not transactional

The most important gift a teacher has is the ability to see children for who they are, who they can be, and the relationship (not the transaction) between the two. Positive student interactions are an essential component of the learner experience and creating meaningful student relationships is also considered one of the most complex and challenging responsibilities of a teacher.

There are many nuances to relationships that robots will never replicate in their human interactions. Truly knowing someone is more than utilizing an algorithm to recall information. Students learn from teachers they like, which is an intimacy outside the grasp of current AI. Robotics and other forms of information communication can be used to enhance or speed up human correspondence; not establish and maintain meaningful associations.

Because the ability to build relationships is both key and difficult, being great at interpersonal experiences is requisite for being an effective teacher. If one can accept the idea that machines cannot create meaningful relationships, only enhance them, then it follows that machines cannot be great teachers.




2. Empathy & Trust

According to researchers at McGill University in Montreal, empathy matters. Their study noted that people who receive empathy from others, especially from an early age, develop a higher capacity to learn.  Sometimes students, like adults, need care and attention. When a teacher stops, listens, and provides attention it is an investment in the relationship. Empathy has also been correlated with reducing the damaging effects of repeated stress, which also suggests that empathy has tremendous implications for achievement, both socially and intellectually.

In order for humans to thrive, we need to feel connected. When people commiserate over a similar or shared experience, it can create a powerful bond. If you tell a friend that you are sad, the friend will most likely show concern and empathize with your pain; robots cannot genuinely consider human feelings like a person can. If you were to share your sadness with a robot and it responded, "I am sorry for your loss, I can imagine you must be very upset" it would most likely not create a meaningful connection. Why? Because the robot does not have genuine emotions. There is no empathy, merely good programming.


3. Inspiration

One of the uniting aspects of the human experience is having an inspirational teacher. If you speak to a successful person they will often tell the story of the teacher that either incited them or inspired them to attain their current goals. Teaching is about inspiration, not information. Effective teaching focuses on the why and how, not the what, with the goal to spark imagination and to find a bridge to learners’ hearts and minds. Teachers are trained to inspire learners; inspiration cannot be programmed.

A computer may be able to motivate a student, but to really inspire takes a human being (If you need a concrete example, take a look at the rather unusual ‘inspirational’ posters and memes created by InspiroBot…).


To create the conditions where curiosity and passion ignite requires a gifted, human, teacher. Artificial intelligence may be able to replace some of the rote duties of a teacher; computers can provide information, they can calculate, project, and even be a facsimile for human interactions but ultimately, they cannot actually be human.

"Empathy is the heart of a great classroom culture"

-Bob Sornson