Assembling and programming small cars is still a great introduction to science and engineering, but we are moving forward these days by having robots act as the direct teachers. As they take on human-like appearances, using easy-going names like Nao, Milo, or Pepper, education is able to take a step further. They focus on providing support in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (shortened into STEM) study sessions.
Earlier this year in March, primary school students in Tampere, Finland started to learn languages with Elias. He is a humanoid robot equipped with 23 languages, software to analyze the students’ skills to decide what questions to ask, and a feedback system for the human teachers. On the other side of the globe, a kid in Texas, U.S. took his lessons via a robot. This robot attended the class for him, performing everything the kid told him to do, and facilitated communication from miles away. The robot allowed him to be an active participant despite not being physically present, unlike the teleconference situations that we already know. Researchers are also spending their time creating robots that can further help those with autism. Several trials show that the robots’ patience, lack of facial features, and predictable behaviors seem to calm autistic kids. As they keep on adjusting themselves to the children’s needs, everyone can learn more effectively.
The teachers can also benefit from having robots assisting in their classes. As mentioned above, the robots’ recording feature lets the teacher review his sessions later to improve his current methods or find new teaching ideas. Indirectly, this creates a continuous teacher training system which may improve the education in general. Delegating the responsibilities between humans and robots also means more focus; the time for human-to-human interaction can be used to learn about the social and emotional aspects. In a more conventional way, robots can provide long-distance learning in cases where teachers can’t be present in the class. Considering the number of available teachers and those in need of education is completely off balance, the long-distance feature is especially important.
However, these robots still have a lot of homework. They are not completely trained to quickly adapt to the students’ ever-changing facial expressions, verbal tone, and physical cues. They are not fully prepared to answer the kids’ out-of-topic questions. They can’t discipline the class like their human counterparts. They are void of empathy and inspiration, at least with the current level of artificial intelligence we have. Their prices are still high; one Nao robot costs more than $7,000. Some robots may require tablets to run. That doesn’t include the fees for service, annual updates, and so on, so cost is still one of the biggest obstacles.
Having an automated education remains a dream for now. If there is anything we can learn, it’s that a compromise certainly doesn’t sound bad; we can work side by side with the technology to provide a more comprehensive education. Experts think it will take more than a decade before we can create a system so perfect, but no one says the word impossible.