Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton

Emeritus Professor Wendy Patton Chair of QCT Board

Welcome to 2018. I hope you’ve had a chance to relax, refresh and spend time with those you love during the Christmas and New Year break.

In an ever-changing professional landscape we are faced with many challenges, and I look forward to tackling some of them with you this year. One of the vexed topics currently dominating the literature in many professions is Artificial Intelligence (AI).

What will be the impact of AI on the work of teachers? Will robots with AI replace teachers? Some reports have suggested that 40-50% of jobs will be eliminated within the next 20-30 years – will teaching be one of them?

New research by both the McKinsey Global Institute and the OECD, which examines specific repetitive tasks rather than whole jobs, has challenged these drastic predictions. McKinsey’s work is based on a detailed analysis of 2,000-plus work activities for more than 800 occupations in the US and argues that focusing on whole occupations rather than single job-tasks might lead to an overestimation of job automatability.

The McKinsey report examines occupational sectors at high, medium and low risk of automation, concluding that the hardest activities to automate with currently available technologies are those that involve managing and developing people, and those that apply expertise to decision making, planning, or creative work. Further, the technical feasibility of automation is lowest in education (at least for now). While not underplaying the significant transformations being created by digital technology, the report acknowledges the essence of teaching is deep expertise and complex interactions with other people. The McKinsey authors assert that these two categories are the least automatable of the seven they identify.

Similarly, the OECD undertook an estimate of automatability of jobs for 21 OECD countries, also using a task-based approach. The report concludes that “on average across the 21 OECD countries, 9 % of jobs are automatable …The threat from technological advances thus seems much less pronounced compared to the occupation-based approach” (p. 8). Incorporating this perspective, a new report from the Foundation for Young Australians comments that by 2030, there will be a reduction in routine manual tasks in work, and an increase in the time workers are engaged in focusing on people, solving strategic problems, and thinking creatively.

Suggestions of teachers being replaced by robots have been criticised by strong advocates of the complex people work of teaching. Writing in the July 2016 Australian Teacher Magazine, the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel commented that nothing can replace a dedicated teacher, adding, No matter how technologically sophisticated our world, children work harder, see further and achieve more when there is an inspiring human being to spur them on”. Similarly, the principal of King’s School in Sydney wrote in The Australian in 2012 about the six Ps of the ideal teacher. He emphasised that five of these six Ps relate to specific interpersonal skills essential to the ideal teacher: Personable, Partner (in learning), Performer (in a performance based system), Parent, and Physician (the sixth was Progressive).

While many tasks of teaching are, and will continue to be, changed by digital technology, many facets of the role will not be. Paradoxically, humans are more important in an era of robots – in my view teachers will be even more crucial to guide and support students through these changes.

Future blogs will look at how teachers can use AI and how the curriculum needs to adapt. For now, our jobs are safe!

I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts throughout 2018.


Arntz, M., Gregory, T., & Zierahn, U. (2016). The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis. OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 189, OECD Publishing, Paris.

Foundation for Young Australians. (2017). The new work smarts: Thriving in the new work order.

Manyika, J., Chui, M., Maremadi, M., Bughin, J., George, J., Willmott, P., & Dewhurst, M. (2017). A future that works: Automation, employment and productivity. McKinsey Global Institute.

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