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Robots Now Teach English in South Korean Schools

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We always thought intimate, human-to-human interaction was a crucial element to learning any foreign language. But officials in the South Korean city of Daegu apparently think that human-to-robot interaction can be just as effective.

On Monday, the city unleashed an army of 29 robot English teachers, designed by the Korea Institute of Science of Technology. The 'bots conducted classes across 21 elementary schools, as part of a pilot program designed to experiment with cheaper educational practices, while stimulating the country's robotics industry.

According to the AFP, each robot stands at a little over three feet, and features a TV screen that displays an avatar of a white woman. The robots are manipulated by English teachers in the Philippines, thanks to a remote control system that allows the tutors to see and hear their students in Korea. The system can also pick up on each teacher's facial expressions, and mimic them with the avatar's face. In the classroom, the 'bot reads books to children, leads them in song, and organizes education games.

City education official Kim Mi-Young said that the robots provided a relatively cheap alternative to human educators, many of whom are often reluctant to work in remote rural areas of South Korea. The 'bots, she explained, "won't complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan." Some reticent students, moreover, may feel more comfortable engaging with a machine than an actual person.

She acknowledged, however, that the program is still in its nascent stages, and stressed that it's oriented more toward boosting the country's robotics industry, rather than completely replacing human teachers. "We are helping upgrade a key, strategic industry and all the while giving children more interest in what they learn," she said.

Tags: Avatar, education, English, language, Robots, school, SouthKorea, teachers, top