Robots serve as teaching assistants in kindergartens across China

China 24

As the new school year begins in China, it’s not just students and teachers entering the classroom. Robots are also reporting for duty.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo filed this report on how a group of teachers in China are transforming the classroom.

In one kindergarten class in Beijing, an unusual-looking teaching assistant has everyone’s attention. It tells stories and challenges the students to solve logic problems.

“Education today is no longer just that the teacher teaches and students just learn,” Kindergarten Teacher Candy Xiao said. “We hope the students can take the initiative to acquire, through different channels, all different kinds of knowledge and interesting happenings around the world. Keeko [the robot] can serve well as one of those channels.”

Keeko is able to get around on its own by zipping around on tiny wheels and using navigational sensors. It also has a camera, allowing it to directly engage with students. For example, it flashes heart-shaped eyes every time a student gets an answer right.

“When children see Keeko with its round head and body, children love this image. So when they see it, we don’t need to make too much effort to make children like Keeko, because the robot just sits there and they like it already,” Xiao said.

This kindergarten class is one of more than 600 across China that use robot teachers like Keeko. Plans are in the works to expand not just in China, but throughout Southeast Asia.

The robots are part of the “Made in China 2025” plan and Beijing’s goal of developing artificial intelligence in various sectors. Last year, the estimated worth of China’s service robot industry was more than a billion dollars, according to “Research in China,” a market research firm. It could grow to nearly $5 billion by 2022.

Even so, this school’s principal believes robots could never substitute for a human educator.

“To teach, especially in the stage of early childhood education, you must be able to interact, having a human touch, eye contact and facial expressions,” Kindergarten Principal Xie Yi said. “These things are all education. it’s not just language or content, it’s everything.”

But helpers like Keeko are changing the classroom experience, and making all these kids want to be the teacher’s favorite.

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