Japan and AI: Schools using robots to teach English

Japanese schools are trying to find ways to take advantage of robots equipped with artificial intelligence in the teaching of English as the country plans to make the language must be official at elementary schools from the spring of 2020.


Each elementary classroom, a sixth-grader describes, in great detail and in good English, a small white robot that resembles a cat that stood on his desk for all to see his invention.


photo credit to: https://www.engadget.com

The city is known for its efforts to teach English to its students and launched language classes in 2004 ahead of the national schedule. The Musio X robots have been introduced at some of the city’s public elementary and junior high schools on a trial basis since last year, the first such case in the country.


Some students that were interacting with the robots said it was more comfortable to talk with them than teachers, while others said it was easier to practice speech. AKA Corp., the Japanese unit of the robot’s U.S. developer, said that the robots have several modes for practicing sample sentences and freeform conversation at different levels of English proficiency.


Originally, however, the English speaking robots were developed for use at home; first introduced at a private junior high school in Kyoto in 2016 and they have since been used at about 30 schools nationwide.



As Japan is scheduled to make English a formal subject for elementary school students in their third year and over from fiscal 2020, what role AI robots will play is in focus.


An unnamed Kyoto University associate professor said that teachers at elementary schools should be given support and extra knowledge about these things through seminars and training. He hopes that robots will help their efforts.


He said that robots can potentially supplement and complement teacher’s roles as conversation partners. The education industry and academia must coordinate in conducting research to clear quality and cost issues.


Reference: Schools in Japan turn to AI robots for help with English classes


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