Education view: Nothing can replace human interaction at the heart of the learning process

Mark English says classroom and playground interaction cannot be replaced.

Mark English says classroom and playground interaction cannot be replaced. - Credit: Archant

Education has become something of a battleground where we engage our preoccupations regarding the situation in which we find ourselves: health, social inequality, not to mention teaching and learning themselves.

We will never forget the time when parents became unqualified teachers overnight, guiding children through different subjects, as Year 5 times tables practice vied for attention with Year 9 French verbs.

In the middle of all of this are the young people whom we educate. The chair of HMC, a group of leading independent schools, summed up the experiences of our current pupils very clearly. She said that no generation outside of wartime has had more taken from them, nor more asked of them. Young people have been required to be more resilient and resourceful than ever. Take the school leavers of 2020: they were awarded their qualifications without sitting examinations, and have gone to higher education only to be taught online, without opportunities to socialise and adjust to being away from home.

A few months ago, some sounded the death knell for “in-person” education as we knew it. Everything could go online. Algorithms could tailor content to the needs of every pupil, facilitating true pupil-centred learning.

At UCS, we welcome the benefits that a thoughtful approach to technology can bring. But it seems that the AI revolution has not come to pass. My own conclusion is that nothing can replace human interaction at the heart of the learning process. Relationships are everything.

Across the country, anxiety has been fuelled by uncertainty amongst teenagers and their parents. For our young people, school now plays a social function that it never had before. Schools have had to adapt in order to further promote wellbeing, healthy living, self-respect and respect for others, to help teenagers navigate modern life whilst preparing to be contributing members of society.

The status of schools, beyond a narrow definition as places where learning takes place, has been roundly re-emphasised. The inalienable humanity to be found in classrooms and playgrounds every day is impossible to replace.

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• Mark English is vice master and academic director at University College School, Hampstead.

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