Recently, the Daniel Hayward Studio account caused a stir among English teachers in China by suggesting in a few of his pieces that the average English teacher of today may for various reasons, eventually be replaced by AI and smartphone apps. Those pieces were so interesting that I felt that there was the potential to conduct an interview with the author and head of the school/official account itself to discuss the topic in further detail.
This is actually not the first time that I have interviewed Daniel; I have previously interviewed him early in 2018 when conducting research for my Masters dissertation, the topic of which focused upon English teachers working in China. After that interview was concluded, we had a longer, more informal kind of chat which drifted away from the specified topics of the interview; one of those things that we discussed was the idea that technology is now advancing at such a pace that it was becoming difficult for the leaders of private schools to adequately prepare for the years ahead; a time where the human presence of today’s English teacher may not be quite as essential as it is now.
Therefore, it seems all the more appropriate for us to talk about this topic once again and consider what the future may hold for English teachers and school leaders working in China.
Hi Daniel! For many expats across China, you may already be considered to be a fairly well known figure. But for those that don’t already know you, please could describe yourself and what you do?
I’m 37 years old. The Studio that is named after me is a part school, part creative endeavour, that has weirdly managed to maintain itself for four years under the weight of its own eccentricity. I suppose the clever thing I worked out years ago was that it would be possible to effectively advertise a school on WeChat by producing original content.
I still consider this to be the only clever thing I have ever worked out in my entire life. I suspect however that this one insight will not get me through to my retirement. I stare out of windows a lot pondering on this point.
Before we discuss today’s topic in more detail, please could you tell me about the reaction that you received in regards to your recent piece ‘The future of English teaching is an AI app?’
Well, a lot of the most substantive reactions to my articles come from my students. I think the general consensus is that technology has the capability to replace people in most lines of work, and that certainly includes teachers.
Regarding the specific point in that article, that teachers involved in early education are particularly under threat from APPS, there was certainly broad agreement. Regarding responses from teachers, many point (quite rightly) to the things that they do that technology can’t, however I would respond that technology can approach something in an entirely different way, achieve excellent results, this making those uniquely human qualities irrelevant.
Overall, people are very pleasant about my writing generally, and this article was typical in that regard.
Do you think that there will always be a market for real, human English teachers in China?
English will become (in the long term) something of a minority pursuit rather like learning to ride a horse or play the clarinet. The vast majority of Chinese people simply won’t need to learn it. The market is huge in China because English has been a compulsory element of state education while, for example, the clarinet isn’t.
I fully expect English to not be a compulsory element of state education in China within the next ten years.
What signs can you see of AI and apps playing an increasingly important role in education of Chinese students?
Being a parent myself now has given me much more insight into this issue. Put simply, young children today are getting their very first educational experiences from APPS on phones and pads and I fully expect that this method of learning will become the standard way that these children learn throughout their lives.
I think for a one year old today, it will seem frankly odd to learn from a human, with other kids, by the time that child is old enough to go to primary school. So the younger the age of the child today, the greater the extent to which they are learning from APPS. I believe as this newest generation matures, the APPS will mature with them, rather like how consoles matured with our generation.
What can teachers currently working in China do to prepare for the change that is about to come?
I can answer this one very briefly: keep an open, objective mind when it comes to finding one’s value in a fast-changing world. The days of ‘white face = money’ are numbered. Which is a shame, as I have rather enjoyed that paradigm.
Will the change that comes be a gradual or more sudden kind of process?
The changes over the last few years have been mind-bogglingly fast, so one would assume that future changes will happen even faster.
Recently, you also put out some other very interesting pieces. Some were upbeat, others depressing or scary. What about ‘Free money for everyone?’ It had quite a sci-fi feel to it.
To assume that the genocide of any people is an impossibility, is to show a profound lack of historical knowledge. I suggested in that article that a people who are both economically inactive and dependent on others for their welfare, are in danger of mass extermination. This is just one reason as to why I am very distrustful of utopian ideas like UBI.
And what about ‘How you will die’ ? – Have you ever had the pleasure of witnessing a vegan singing to a cabbage yet?
The vegan is an easy target, as the more rabid vegans are so spectacularly dumb online that they pretty much put the entire group to shame, which isn’t fair. My own view is that in the millennial quest for an ‘identity’, really dumb ones that just can’t bear to go gay or bend their gender, end up vegan.
The article is lampooning those people, rather than vegans in general. The main character in ‘How You Will Die’, Tobias, isn’t only defined by his vegan self-identity, but rather he represents the kind of people who are both most likely to dream of UBI, and in my view, are most likely to be least deserving of it, as they have no proper job, aren’t interested in having a family and see society’s purpose to be to provide for their every want. To me there is a dark humour in it.
Finally, are you optimistic about the role that automation can play within education? Can it really improve the end user experience?
I think that like many innovations (television, computers, the internet, computer games), the intelligent will greatly benefit from it, while the dumb will make themselves even dumber with it. One can be stuck to a phone watching rubbish, or one can be enriching one’s mind, for example.
My own view on this issue is that the automation of learning will allow the smart to be become much smarter, however the dumb will most likely learn even less than they would have previously.
Have a lovely day Kyle,