A school district in South Korea has begun trialling 29 robot English teachers in primary schools, AFP reports.
The robots named Engkey (short for English Disc-Jockey) stand about 1 metre high, have a video display panel for a face and are wheeled around the classroom. They speak English to students, read them books and can sing and dance by moving their heads and arms.
Developed by the Korea Institute of Science of Technology (KIST), the interesting thing about these robots is that they are actually operated remotely by English teachers in the Philippines. The Filipino teachers can see, hear and respond to the South Korean students and the robot even translates the teachers facial expressions onto the Engkeys screen.
Earlier versions of Engkey could only practice scripted conversations and the robots were at a loss if students veered off script, reported the NY Times. The current model allows a lot more realistic interactions using English with the students.
Feedback so far from the teacher is that the students love interacting with the Engkey robot, as it looks cute and interesting. Even the more shy students aren’t as scared to speak out and make mistakes when talking to a robot instead of a real person,
Engkey could provide a more feasible long term alternative to the high cost of employing thousands of American, Canadian, South Africans and Australian teachers who are not only expensive, but less willing to work in remote areas in the country. The robots are reported to cost 10 million won (about US$8,700) each. And well educated, experience Filipino teachers are far cheaper to employ compared to many other English teachers from other parts of the world.
Could this be the future of globalisation and classroom teaching in other countries?