• Jennifer Smith

What If Our Only Solution to the Teacher Shortage is the Metaverse?

Photo by Barbara Zandoval on Unsplash

Call me crazy. Some do. I prefer to think of myself as a forward-thinking realist. I’ve been pondering this question: What if the resignation of teachers all across the land leads us to AI and the metaverse as the only solution? What if no one wants to teach anymore? What if it’s easier to craft computer programs just to teach what we want students to know? What if an algorithm is just simpler?

By November, polling suggested 25% of American teachers planned to leave the profession this year. As of this month, the number of teachers “very likely” to leave the profession has increased to 33% according to an EdWeek Research Center Survey. If we also add those “somewhat likely” to resign, the total of potential teachers leaving the profession becomes 54%. Now, we face a new wave of covid-19 which is so contagious that communities are being hit harder than ever with illness. Many schools, despite being deemed “safe”, have no real protocols or testing plans. At the start of the year, teachers will be on the frontlines having contact with hundreds of people each day. Already tired, will even more consider leaving?

So, where will schools be if 40–50% of teachers choose another profession? Are there enough young teaching hopefuls to fill those spots? No, teacher education programs have declined radically in recent years. Pre-pandemic in 2019, the Center for American Progress’ study determined those enrolling in teacher education programs had declined by 28% in the past decade. This year, as here noted by the New York Times, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education acknowledged an additional significant drop this spring. Teaching is no longer a respected profession, and the salary and benefits do not even begin to compare to what companies offer. Again, what will schools do?

Tech companies have a vision. Already, these companies are creating online schools and platforms designed to educate our youth. Tech innovators and marketing experts are having conversations about the concept regularly on social media platforms like LinkedIn. And it’s not just tech companies who are creating. After a year of pandemic learning, online options are sprouting up everywhere. From school districts to independent schools, many are realizing parents want options and creating some.

Schools already exist in the metaverse. Yes, actual schools are in the metaverse for parents to choose. And with the internet, students could attend a school anywhere in the world. There is no need for children to attend a school in Florida if the parents believe a school’s platform in Paris or Moscow better suits their needs. Imagine the opportunities for those interested in establishing new schools.

Virtual learning frees parents from constraints of living in certain areas and school calendars. Students who participate in competitive sports or the arts have more opportunities than ever to engage in their education as well as extracurriculars. And that family who wants to travel the world for a year? Their children do not have to miss out on a high quality education; all they need is access to the internet.

What about social engagement? Social engagement exists on the internet. Look at social media. With AI, we can create virtual worlds where students engage, problem-solve, and collaborate. What about families who need someone to watch their children while they work? Would schools transform into “centers” where students would attend their separate schools in the metaverse? Fewer employees would be needed to simply supervise students while they were engaged online.

Which is easier for administrators–hire hundreds of new teachers or subscribe to an online platform for families? To be clear, I am not an advocate of a switch to AI schooling. I am simply posing the question. What if? When we imagine possibilities, we often find better solutions. Let’s not allow this situation to become another failure of imagination.

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