Some time ago I took a look at the rise of English lessons offered online. With eikaiwa in ruins after the collapse of Nova, online lessons were slowly taking off by offering cheap lessons any time you wanted. Now it seems that South Korea has upped the ante and Japan must certainly be green with envy--South Korea has introduced robot English teachers into the classroom:
Almost 30 robots have started teaching English to youngsters in a South Korean city, education officials said Tuesday, in a pilot project designed to nurture the nascent robot industry.
Engkey, a white, egg-shaped robot developed by the Korea Institute of Science of Technology (KIST), began taking classes Monday at 21 elementary schools in the southeastern city of Daegu.
While it is a pilot program, the reasons for the robots, apart from "it's technology and therefore cool," boil down to cost and humans are scary.
"Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea," he told AFP.
Apart from reading books, the robots use pre-programmed software to sing songs and play alphabet games with the children.
"The kids seemed to love it since the robots look, well, cute and interesting. But some adults also expressed interest, saying they may feel less nervous talking to robots than a real person," said Kim Mi-Young, an official at Daegu city education office.
"Having robots in the classroom makes the students more active in participating, especially shy ones afraid of speaking out to human teachers," Kim said.
The machines can be an efficient tool to hone language skills for many people who feel nervous about conversing with flesh-and-blood foreigners, he said.
Maybe I'm getting cranky as I get older, but the robots sound like nothing more than TVs on wheels. It's ironic that while the teachers are Filipinos, their avatars are Caucasian.
The robots, which display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, are controlled remotely by teachers of English in the Philippines -- who can see and hear the children via a remote control system.
I'm also not convinced that a robot would help a student overcome their fear of talking with a real human. If you learn to speak English from a robot, don't you still have to deal with your phobia of talking to people?
Apart from cheap labor from the Philippines, it takes until the end of the article to find about the real savings:
"Plus, they won't complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan... all you need is a repair and upgrade every once in a while."
No wonder teachers are leaving for better-paying jobs in Japan. How dare those pesky teachers take time off and demand better pay.