Robots teach English in South Korea

South Korean students are learning English from robots controlled by teachers in the Philippines. The Engkey robots are teaching at 21 elementary schools in the southeastern city of Daegu.

The 3-1/2-foot-tall, egg-shaped device, developed by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), has a TV display screen for a face. The human teachers can see and listen to the students through the remote link and can direct the robots to move around the classroom, “dance” to music, play educational games and sing songs with the children.

Robots begin teaching English in South Korean classrooms

Knowledge Economy Ministry / AFP / Getty Images

The robots display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, but cameras detect the Filipino teachers’ facial expressions and reflect them on the avatar’s face, Sagong Seong-Dae, a senior scientist at KIST, told Agence France Presse.

“Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea,” he told AFP.

Apart from reading books, the robots use pre-programmed software to sing songs and play alphabet games with the children.

“The kids seemed to love it since the robots look, well, cute and interesting. But some adults also expressed interest, saying they may feel less nervous talking to robots than a real person,” said Kim Mi-Young, an official at Daegu city education office.

Robots may be sent to rural areas where foreign English teachers are reluctant to work. However, Kim said the experiment isn’t designed to replace human teachers. “We are helping upgrade a key, strategic industry and all the while giving children more interest in what they learn.”

“Having robots in the classroom makes the students more active in participating, especially shy ones afraid of speaking out to human teachers,” Kim said.

Korean scientists have been experimenting with using robots to teach math, science and other subjects.

“They won’t complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan,” Sagong said.

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