March 11, 2013 – They are colourful, playful, captivating and approachable. It is little wonder children have grown very fond of their new instructors.
In the coastal city of Masan in South Korea, elementary school children are taught English by the newest generation of teachers – a robot named EngKeye that is specifically designed to help young children with learning disabilities such as autism and ADHD.
"The educational robot system indeed helps increase students' interest and self-motivation in studying English and improves their English skills," said Mun-Taek Choi, senior research engineer at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) that funded and developed EngKeye.
EngKeye is remotely controlled by a human teacher outside the classroom, some as far away as Australia, whose face appears on the screen of the robot. Teachers closely monitor students' responses via multiple cameras.
After a three-month trial period, teachers witnessed:
- a dramatic change in the emotional behaviour and learning capabilities of their students
- children were receiving much better grades
- children had an increased desire to make friends and get along with others
"This type of technology can bring many types of teaching that would otherwise be unavailable into more classrooms," says Tucker Balch, Associate Professor of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Another version of the EngKeye, which doesn't connect students to a human teacher, uses voice recognition technology to help students practice their English pronunciation and dialogue.
Pre-school teachers in Daejeon have received assistance with iRobi and a robot dog named Genibo. iRobi marks students' attendance in class and uses a face recognition program to ask children about their mood. Genibo, originally invented to be a pet robot, was redesigned to teach dance and gymnastics moves.
"Children feel the robot is their friend," said Bum-Jae Yun, head of the Cognitive Robotics Center at KIST.
"Robots are very helpful to enhance the concentration capability of children in class."
Robots, while not intended to substitute real teachers, are a cost-effective way to assist teachers when basic and repetitive training is required. EngKeye helps to address South Korea's shortage of qualified, native-English speaking teachers.
"Robotic technology is still developing and it will be a long time, if ever, before robots are capable of leading a classroom on their own," said Balch.
36 EngKeyes will be integrated into 18 elementary schools across the Korean city of Daegu by the end of 2014. 10 EngKeyes will be exported to Denmark next year, while additional pilot programs are conducted at Gyeonggi Province providing schools with greater flexibility through innovative technology to reach their students.
Gyeonggi Province, the most populated province of South Korea, is the manufacturing nucleus of Seoul encompassing various industries such as electronics, machinery, chemicals, steel, textiles, farms, livestock and fisheries.
Gyeonggi Province continues to invest quite liberally in the promotion of service industries such as state-of-the-art IT, design, conventions and tourism, along with its great leap forward as a commercial hub in Northeast Asia utilizing the Pyeongtaek Harbor.