Monday 16 December 2013 11:33 am

4 reasons to be happy about the end of teaching

Skills and Enterprise minister Matthew Hancock has unveiled plans for teachers to take a backseat when it comes to "imparting knowledge", with computers and personalised online tuition leading the way.

A Whitehall unit has been set up to look at how children can be taught by computers that use algorithms to pace work according to the ability of the individual. 

Hancock's move echoes the work of Sugata Mitra, whose 1999 Hole in the Wall experiment championed the ability of children to use technology to effectively to teach themselves and retain information.

Of course, individually-tailored work schemes for use within the classroom are very different, but the principle to innovate and capitalise on technology is the same. 

Here are four reasons these plans could be an important – practical and ideological – change in education:

Embracing the new, efficient and easier

We've actually been doing the whole teacher in front of class thing for a rather long time – over 3,000 years, in fact. 

Of course there are the "if it isn't broken/there's a reason we've been doing it for such a while" arguments, but this is a case of modern technology being there and almost ready to use. We need to decided whether to embrace or reject it.

In terms of efficiency, the results could be remarkable. Online tuition is already being used as a cheaper way of teaching across the world. It'll allow teachers, said Hancock, to focus on "mentoring, coaching and motivating", empowering them and maximising children's potential.

Combating class size

Classes are large in the UK. This doesn't necessarily have to be a problem, but the shift in favour of child-led learning can mean impracticalities. 

All too often children, particularly the middlers, are lost in a sea of project-orientated work, designed to teach on the job. All will do considerably better working at their own speed, with teachers on hand to help, and on something that rewards immediately (which is what Hancock's aiming for). 

Learning something different

Something that is particularly irksome about the current education system is the insistence that children should learn exactly the same thing. 

Academy freedom around the curriculum changes this on paper, but the curriculum's alignment to exams means that, in reality, you can dig out An Inspector Calls in the majority of English department resource cupboards.

This really needn't be the case with computer-led learning. Computers could be used to teach basics, or to enrich and top up things learnt in class – or both. In fact, options could be almost limitless, allowing staff more freedom to branch out. 

Incentives and science

Hancock has backed up his plans with US research on dopamine in children's brains. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with reward.

Children disengaged from learning are missing a dopamine release into the bloodstream, explains Hancock.

Those who are disengaged from learning are often behind and because they can’t keep up they don’t get the physiological response to the teaching… that others in the class do. So they become disengaged and… potentially disruptive.

Personalised lessons on laptops are a way to "keep the dopamine flowing", he adds. For many children (and teachers), this could be a vital change.

Hancock's research might be (at least seemingly) on the pithy side, but his employment of science is admirable in itself. 

Education policymakers have still not embraced the most up-to-date knowledge on children's brains and development, just as they haven't conceded that radical changes, beyond the structural, might well be worth a go.