Refugee children may be taught by robots

By Natalie Ilsley

Many of the families with young children are seeking asylum, safety and a better life. File Photo / NZH.
Many of the families with young children are seeking asylum, safety and a better life. File Photo / NZH.

More than a million refugees entered Germany from war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq last year.

Many of them are families with young children seeking asylum, safety and a better life.

And many will stay: around half of the new arrivals have already applied for asylum, according to German Interior Ministry spokesman Tobias Plate, which means German primary schools will see a massive influx of new students in the coming years.

One big problem is that many of these young immigrants don't yet know the language of their adopted country - putting them at risk of quickly falling behind their peers.

But German scientists think they've found a solution: robots.

Researchers from the University of Bielefeld in northeast Germany have started a three-year project to see whether an autonomous, programmable robot can make it easier for 4 and 5-year-old children to gain the language skills they need to succeed in the classroom immediately.

The French company Aldebaran Robotics developed the 58cm tall robot named NAO (pronounced "now") in 2004.

Using a tablet, a camera and a microphone, NAO will help newly arrived children learn German by showing them pictures to convey simple words and expressions.

NAO robots are already proving they can help kids learn.

Researchers at the University of Denver say NAO robots are better than people at triggering social responses in autistic children, who are often confused by facial expressions and vocal inflections.

Aldebaran says NAO works because it is infinitely patient and eminently approachable.

To make sure kids are comfortable around NAO, the robot is built to resemble a small, cute human, with a torso, a head, two arms and two legs.

It can speak, walk, even dance, and has the ability to recognise faces and voices.

At Yale University, computer science researchers Aditi Ramachandran and Brian Scassellati are studying how 10 and 11-year-olds interact with robots, with the aim of developing software that enables robots to understand if a student is sad or happy and recognise the progress they make as they learn math.

Meanwhile the Bielefeld team are working to program the NAO robots to recognise and react to the children's language levels as they progress, which they believe will make the robots even more effective teachers.

Kirsten Bergmann, one of the researchers on the team, says they hope to have an army of NAO robots - which cost about US$7500 ($11,280) each - in classrooms around Europe within 18 months.

This pilot programme is part of the bigger L2TOR project, which started on November 25 and brought together linguists and robotics experts from universities across Europe to figure out how to use robots to teach children foreign languages.

They'll start with the newly arrived refugees but eventually the robots could help kids all over the world become polyglots.

- Newsweek

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 27 Aug 2016 02:11:08 Processing Time: 1176ms