S.Korea schools get robot English teachers

Dec 28, 2010 by Jung Ha-Won
An English-teaching robot (R), "Engkey", stands in front of children at an elementary school in Daegu, southeast of Seoul. The 29 robots, about one metre (3.3 feet) high with a TV display panel for a face, wheeled around the classroom while speaking to the students, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their head and arms.

Almost 30 robots have started teaching English to youngsters in a South Korean city, education officials said Tuesday, in a pilot project designed to nurture the nascent robot industry.

Engkey, a white, egg-shaped developed by the Korea Institute of Science of Technology (KIST), began taking classes Monday at 21 elementary schools in the southeastern city of Daegu.

The 29 robots, about one metre (3.3 feet) high with a TV display panel for a face, wheeled around the classroom while speaking to the students, reading books to them and dancing to music by moving their head and arms.

The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines -- who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.

Cameras detect the Filipino teachers' facial expressions and instantly reflect them on the avatar's face, said Sagong Seong-Dae, a senior scientist at KIST.

"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.

Kim said some may be sent to remote rural areas of shunned by foreign English teachers.

She said the robots are still being tested. But officials might consider hiring them full time if scientists upgrade them and make them easier to handle and more affordable.

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

She stressed the experiment was not about replacing human teachers with robots. "We are helping upgrade a key, strategic industry and all the while giving children more interest in what they learn."

The four-month pilot programme was sponsored by the government, which invested 1.58 billion won (1.37 million dollars).

Scientists have held pilot programmes in schools since 2009 to develop robots to teach English, maths, science and other subjects at different levels with a desired price tag of five to eight million won.

Sagong stressed that the robots, which currently cost 10 million won each, largely back up human teachers but would eventually have a bigger role.

The machines can be an efficient tool to hone language skills for many people who feel nervous about conversing with flesh-and-blood foreigners, he said.

"Plus, they won't complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan... all you need is a repair and upgrade every once in a while."

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User comments : 16

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bugmenot23
3 / 5 (5) Dec 28, 2010
This is Lame!

First, this not AI. There is a live person controlling the robot. So the schools are avoiding health insurance etc, only as the teacher is physically in another country.

Second, why replace the Filipeno teacher's face with a Caucasian face? Why not just show the real face? Are Asians racists against themselves...
lexington
4.7 / 5 (3) Dec 28, 2010
Great, now we can outsource absolutely everything.
droid001
4.7 / 5 (3) Dec 28, 2010
Bugmenon - you are wrong. Big step forward, nobody said this is AI. Just change program and robor can teach french, spanish language or just history.
I'm impressed.
sstritt
3 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2010
They must not have teachers' unions in S.Korea!
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2010
They must not have teachers' unions in S.Korea!


Once half decent A.I. becomes available, teacher's unions will lose out anyway. The A.I. will be more reliable, and if you program it properly, it will work for free and not ask for sick leave or vacations.

Programmable teaching utilities have already been around for 15 to 20 years for some subsets of skills and knowledge. I learned typing from Mavis Beacon because I wanted to be able to type while playing online video games.

Imagine if we had a computer like that which taught mathematics. I certainly would love a computer program for learning higher math, both as a refresher for the stuff I already learned, and as a teacher who actually cares to be there, instead of the 60% drop/fail rate jerks who teach math in university.
weewilly
1 / 5 (1) Dec 28, 2010
I have mixed emotions about this. I cannot understand why it might be easier to talk to a robotic device hosting a human teacher many hundreds of miles away. Also, why is it not possible to do it completely by Artificial Intelligence? Lastly, couldn't they have come up with a better looking robotic host. Why is a screen picture of anyone needed at all. Talk to the robot it is what we will be doing in the future anyway.
lexington
not rated yet Dec 28, 2010
Also, why is it not possible to do it completely by Artificial Intelligence?


Due to the lack of any AIs. Now you could build a simple program to present the information but teachers have to do a lot more work than that.
Quantum_Conundrum
3 / 5 (2) Dec 28, 2010
Due to the lack of any AIs. Now you could build a simple program to present the information but teachers have to do a lot more work than that.


I was gonna write a lengthy response, but then I realized something depressing. One of the biggest problems in a classroom environment in k-12 schools isn't even a teaching or learning problem per se, but a disciplinarian problem. Kids are always breaking the rules, and then teachers and other faculty are basicly forbidden to do anything at all to discipline students any more.

What would happen with a robot is some class clown would damage or destroy it, and then if they got hurt in the process, they'd sue the school district and end up winning.
Sinister181
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 29, 2010
What's to stop these kids from switching it off, or pulling the plug during a lesson? And how is that robot going to deal with troublesome students?
Michael2010
5 / 5 (3) Dec 29, 2010
A closer look at the picture shows that only three students are paying attention to the robot. Those who have never taught tend to confuse teaching with instructing. This robot is instructing. A teacher would be aware of the class and adjust their presentation accordingly.

Also, is the rest of the class standing on their desks to see the "instructor"?

Spending $9000 each on this "instructor" in its present configuration is another example of the foolishness of allowing those who don't work IN the classroom to make decisions FOR the classroom.
maxcypher
5 / 5 (5) Dec 29, 2010
I teach math to American, at-risk, high school kids. I got into the field in the last five years and I also had the American attitude of "Those who can't do, teach." Now, I know better. 80% of my time is spent teaching the kids how to relate to each other and to the local authority figure (me) with respect and w/o violence. That robot wouldn't last an hour with these kids, nor would 99% of the 'experts' on teaching I hear from (and everyone seems to think they're 'experts') who have never actually taught in a classroom.
Victor_Peck
1 / 5 (2) Dec 29, 2010
love it want one
finitesolutions
5 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2010
I am waiting for them to replace the students also. I mean why study since most jobs will be done by robots. We need a robostudent.
StarDust21
Dec 30, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.9 / 5 (9) Dec 30, 2010
Hey marjon, north korea has robot teachers too- theyre called communists-
And how is that robot going to deal with troublesome students?
Electroshock? Ok, Im done.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (8) Dec 30, 2010
Actually, tom selleck predicted this very thing 15 yrs ago:
hxxp://dvice.com/archives/2010/12/tom-sellecks-sc.php
Skepticus
1 / 5 (1) Dec 30, 2010
I teach math to American, at-risk, high school kids. I got into the field in the last five years and I also had the American attitude of "Those who can't do, teach." Now, I know better. 80% of my time is spent teaching the kids how to relate to each other and to the local authority figure (me) with respect and w/o violence. That robot wouldn't last an hour with these kids, nor would 99% of the 'experts' on teaching I hear from (and everyone seems to think they're 'experts') who have never actually taught in a classroom.


Adding the teaching program to a Robocop program. If the juvenile bastards are not there to learn, what they are doing? Networking for future crime career? And send a modded Robocop to each of these timewaster's parents as well. Teach them that their product of excessive fornication without planning is not the State' responsibility, and they are not rabbits.

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