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Robots Teaching Children in Korea

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

At the core of Korean Education Policy is the ambitious plan to have robotic instructors at all the 8400 kindergartens by the year 2013.

Aiding this program are the country’s leading science organizations. The Korea Institute of Science and Technology has delivered on its artificial intelligence capabilities by developing the EngKey robot.

Egg-shaped EngKey

The design of the English Key Robot is similar to that of a Penguin (though most claim it is egg-shaped) with an interactive screen embedded in its chest and expressive facial features (within its mechanical limits). With swaying hands and mobility, these cute toys have been deployed in 29 schools across Masan and Daegu. The EngKey is a follow-up to Genibo, the dog robot used successfully to teach preschoolers gymnastics and dance. Its success is attributed to a child’s innate fascination for toys.

To make up for the possible waning of interest amongst older students, the Ministry looks to EngKey more as a portable telepresenter. The EngKey is designed to allow English tutors in remote Philippines to use it to interact with children in the classroom through the interactive screen. The remote teachers are able to listen to the children, manipulate EngKey face and voice, and speak/reply to the children. The image of a Caucasian woman is displayed on EngKey screen with the voice-over of the remote tutor.

Why robot teachers?

The logic behind the use of robot (or bot as it is popularly called) is that children are more likely to interact with the speaking bot without reservation in comparison to a human teacher. Children who are attentive and more interactive with EngKey could learn their lesson more easily and quickly, the reasoning goes. This is the intention, but there are far too many unsaid limitations to it, say educational experts.

The first impact to consider is how generations of adults who were educated by robots may face severe adjustment issues, especially at higher levels of education. Yet digital trends in education could well involve different formats that could be without classrooms and teachers. Educationists believe that each student can study according to his intelligence and grasping capacities, thus rewriting how education is delivered to children.

Use of Robots in education-right or wrong?

In the context of such consideration, it remains a very costly experiment for bots to be educating children as full time teachers, as intended. For bots to assist regular teachers and become a tool for delivering better quality of education is acceptable, but to impose mechanical bots to teach fundamental concepts of science, mathematics and space to children would, to most people, seem more like a grandiose experiment in science fiction.

Korean Robotics - investment for the future?

Robots fascinate Korea and there are entire theme parks there which are dedicated to robots. Just as we have the present generation of hardware and software gurus building today’s scientific frontiers, perhaps the early introduction to robotics will help Korean children to adapt easily to a future dominated by robots. The answer to this clearly scientific experiment in human inner engineering awaits us in the future, when the first generation of EngKey educated comes of age.

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