In a pilot project designed to bolster the burgeoning robot industry, 21 elementary schools in the southeastern city of Daegu have “hired” twenty-nine robots to teach English.
Developed by the Korean Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), the white, egg-shaped robot is known as Engkey. The robots stand more than three feet high and have the avatar face of a Caucasian woman. They are remotely controlled as they wheel around the classroom, speaking and reading books to students.
“Cameras detect the Filipino teachers’ facial expressions and instantly reflect them on the avatar’s face. Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea,” said Sagong Seong-Dae, a senior scientist at KIST.
The robots are full of educational surprises. In addition to reading books, the robots use pre-programmed software to sing songs and play alphabet games with the children.
“The experiment is 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,” says Kim Mi-Young, an education official.
The four-month program was sponsored by the government and cost 1.58 billion won (1.37 million dollars). Still in experimental stages, if things work out, Engkey may become standard school equipment.
If so, schools won’t have to pay pensions, offer sick days, fringe benefits or deal with work place issues.
Children should still bring an apple a day to school for the teacher, just in case.