Update 2: Wow, I just read Gusts of Popular Feeling‘s post called “English teachers to be wiped out by robot revolution” and, wow . . . it’s awesome. Read his post first, and then if you’re bored and have some time to waste, read mine.
Update 1: The BBC just did a small piece on the robot nonsense. You can hear a phone interview here, and more importantly a recording of the robot ‘speaking’–COUGH COUGH HACK HACK!
WHAT A JOKE! Are you serious? Anyone who feels that this threatens their position as a human teacher, let alone native English teacher, is being paranoid. Like I said below, “Or will it just be a ridiculously expensive mobile-stereo-with-English-CD-DVD content that the Korean teachers pull out for photo-ops, class demonstrations when the local education office executives stroll in for their 30 second inspection tours, and maybe when the native teacher is sick . . .”
There have been news stories (for example, South Korean Robot English Teachers Are Go) circulating about how the Korean government is planning to use robots to teach English–and all I can do is roll my eyes every time I read about this ludicrous idea.
The basic premise is, “A shortage of English teachers has compelled South Korea to take the next logical step and plan a $45 million rollout of robotic teaching assistants. That official go-ahead follows several months of robot trials, io9 says based on Korean news reports” (source). I have to wonder what kind of ‘education experts’ were involved in these trials . . . all too often businessman-politicians are really pulling the strings in education policy decisions, and the results of these education policies are still that Korean English language learners rank near the bottom of the world each year when test scores are compared around the world. Based on such a dismal track record one has to wonder what kind of success is possible . . . actually, I don’t wonder–I know it won’t work. It’s too easy to blame the teachers and ignore all the other problems that contribute to the overall consistently poor English language abilities of Korean students . . . a robot does not a miracle create.
The article goes on to describe how “The robotic teachers would deploy in 500 preschools by 2011, and 8,000 preschools and kindergartens by 2013. In the short run, that could help address the lack of English teachers in rural areas or remote islands” (source). If you were a parent would you want your child left alone in a classroom with a ROBOT? An experimental one at that?! I don’t even think it’s LEGAL to allow a robot to act as a teacher in a classroom in terms of supervision and safety, and I’m pretty certain insurance is not bloody likely to cover Mr. C-3P0 accidentally stepping on little Hana’s foot and crushing it, or any of the million other problems that arise in a preschool classroom environment. Will the robot really be replacing the teacher? Or will it just be a ridiculously expensive mobile-stereo-with-English-CD-DVD content that the Korean teachers pull out for photo-ops, class demonstrations when the local education office executives stroll in for their 30 second inspection tours, and maybe when the native teacher is sick . . .
The best part of this nonsense is found here: “But South Korean robotics experts have already begun predicting that the bots could replace more than 30,000 native English teachers in Korea’s language institutes within the not-so distant future . . .” (source). HAHAHAHA! Right . . . if “not-so distant future” means 20-30 years from now when robotics and education artificial intelligence programming have evolved beyond the gleam in Dr. Soong’s eye . . . maybe.
I’ll end this post with a list of reasons why I think that as of this moment in time a robot cannot replace a human teacher, and especially native English teachers in Korea.
A robot can’t read body language like a human teacher.
A robot can’t use personal stories to explain ideas.
A robot can’t vary their information delivery speed in as flexible a manner as a human teacher.
A robot can’t detect bad student behavior as well as a human teacher can.
A robot can’t stop two students from beating the snot out of each other.
A robot can’t use other teaching technologies in the classroom (not at least without expensive equipment being introduced into every classroom).
A robot can’t talk to parents about their children’s behavioral problems.
A robot can’t produce original and new lesson materials.
A robot only knows what is programmed into its data banks–based on what I’ve seen of Korean English textbook makers the content will have errors.
A robot cannot improvise.
A robot cannot talk about English cultural background information that goes with textbook curriculum unless it’s been programmed with it–and that information must be accurate too.
A robot has limited mobility and most Korean classrooms are crowded with desks and have narrow aisles–how will it interact with students in a wide variety of situations.
A robot cannot play games with children, especially physically active games.
A robot cannot exhibit true human joy and enthusiasm when playing games and doing activities.
A robot cannot understand why little Subin is crying, and it will not be able to hug him and tell him everything will be okay.
A robot is made of plastic–human contact is something that cannot be substituted when humans interact with each other.
A robot cannot provide the model of a good person to children. Body language and interaction rituals cannot be performed by a robot.
A robot cannot be creative, and the Korean news media, government, and major corporations are all talking about how Korea needs creativity and innovation to be introduced into the national public school curriculum so that Korean corporations have a chance of competing in the global marketplace.
A robot cannot modify lesson content to adapt to human factors like fatigue, boredom, stress, and all the other frailties that our human condition bring into the classroom.
And the list goes on and on and on . . .
It’s far more likely that the robot-teacher idea is a fantasy of politicians who wish that there could be some kind of magical solution to the education system problems in Korea, and in particular a magic solution to learning English.
There’s only one ‘magic’ solution to learning English: hard work over many years.
For now Teacher Jason, or Teacher Fester, will be the guy giving 110% effort to teach English in a fun and effective way to Koreans.
I think I know who I’ll dress up as for Halloween this year, lol!