South Koreans spend thousands of dollars a year for their children's English education. Learning the English language doesn't stop from going to school in the daily life of a common Korean student. They still go to academies and/or English institutions then go online to study with a teacher again remotely.There are already a lot of online English learning centers here in the Philippines which cater to not just Koreans but as well as Mexicans, Japanese, Chinese and Turks. On the Net when you happen to stumble upon online tutoring reviews, most outsource English teachers from the Philippines because of cheap labor costs.
With the shortage of English teachers, the Korean education sector was compelled to take the next logical step and plan a $45 million pilot project in utilizing telepresence tools in the classroom.They wanted to help the foreigners they outsource from different countries to reach out to their students effectively. And so was the birth of the distant relative of the Transformers - Engkey!
In late 2010, about 30 egg-shaped robots with the alias, "Engkey" short for English Key were deployed in schools in Korea firstly in Daegu. The robot teachers carried the avatar face of a Caucasian (some mistaken her to be an Emma Watson look alike) woman but behind the robotic English teacher's voice, brace yourself is a Filipino!
The setting can be imagined to be straight from a sci-fi movie with students interacting with Miss Robotica who changes her facial expression too like a human teacher thanks to technology.This happens when the camera captures the Filipino teachers changing facial emotions which then are mimicked by the avatar.
The robot maestro was developed by KIST (Korean Institute of Science and Technology). Engkey is measured at one meter (3.3 feet) high, has a TV display panel, wheeled around the classroom while communicating to the students. It has a small screen at the head and are embedded with microphones and speakers. The dumpy appearance of the mechanical maestro was aimed to keep students from becoming intimidated especially the timid ones but then we are not sure if discipline has to suffer.
They target of having a robot in each Kindergarten classroom by the year 2013 which can help save money and prepare their kids zooming in for the 21st Century or the space age in the near future.
In the next 2-3 years maybe, we can find inter galactica classroom settings with students complete with space suits and advanced tools for studies debating with their mechanical maestros. I don't find these mechanical figures threatening my job as an online English teacher for I can one day be one of the teacher bots behind Engkey. One thing is for sure - it cannot operate without an efficient and effective Filipino teacher behind it!