Japan turns to classroom robots in bid to boost English skills


English-speaking robots will be helping out in some 500 Japanese classrooms from next year as the country seeks to improve English skills among both children and teachers using artificial intelligence.

The education ministry is planning a pilot project costing around ¥250 million ($227,000) to improve students’ notoriously weak oral and written skills in the language, an official said.

“AI robots already on the market have various functions. For example, they can check the pronunciation of each student’s English, which is difficult for teachers to do,” added the official in charge of international education, who asked not to be named.

AI robots “are just one example of the trial, and we are planning other measures,” such as using tablet apps and having online lessons with native speakers, he said.

The move comes ahead of a change in the national curriculum in two years that will require children from the age of 10 to learn English.

Japanese schools struggle to find qualified teachers for English classes and generally lack the cash to hire trained language assistants.

Some elementary and middle schools have already turned to technology to bolster English teaching with the introduction of AI robots to the classroom.

English classes are compulsory for students aged between 12 and 15 but the starting age will be lowered to elementary school children in 2020.