In a move that seems straight out of science fiction, a Japanese city is pioneering the use of robots in classrooms to address an increasingly concerning issue: the rising rates of school truancy. Schools in this city are looking toward technological intervention to keep kids engaged in their education, and the world is watching closely.
These aren’t your typical robots
The issue of school absenteeism, or truancy, in Japan is complex and multifaceted. For starters, Japanese schools are often associated with high academic expectations and rigorous schedules. The stress of performing well in class and the associated pressure can be overwhelming for some students, leading them to avoid school altogether.
To make matters even worse, Japan also has a surprisingly pervasive school bullying culture. Coupled with cultural factors and a lack of support and inclusiveness, school absenteeism is running rampant in some Japanese regions. This is sometimes also tied in with the cultural phenomenon known as “Hikikomori,” where individuals, often teenagers, withdraw from social life and spend significant amounts of time isolated in their homes.
To address this, officials in a Japanese city are turning to robots.
In Kumamoto, a city in Southwest Japan, some schools will install robots in classrooms to help home-based pupils feel more included and less anxious.
These high-tech devices come equipped with features designed to engage students and provide real-time feedback, effectively acting as an extension of the student. The robots are equipped with microphones, speakers, and cameras. They will enable two-way communication, essentially serving as an avatar of the students.
Children will be able to maneuver the robots from home, taking place in classes and discussions with schoolmates. The robots won’t be confined to classrooms — they will be free to roam the school premises and take part in events.
“Communicating through these robots is not completely real-life, but it can at least give a certain sense of reality to kids who are still unsure and afraid of interacting with others,” Maki Yoshizato, a Kumamoto city official said.
“We hope this undertaking will help alleviate their psychological fears.”
Tackling a growing problem
This novel approach is an attempt to remedy the escalating problem of school absenteeism. Truancy has become a significant concern not only in Japan but also globally, affecting students’ performance and their future prospects. It’s not just about missing algebra lessons; truant kids are more likely to face difficulties later in life, such as unemployment or involvement in criminal activity.
In a world where technology is often blamed for distracting the younger generation from real-world responsibilities, this initiative provides a compelling counter-narrative. Technology, when harnessed correctly, can be an ally in shaping better futures.
Moreover, the role of technology in education is a subject of ongoing debate. As we grapple with the challenges posed by remote learning and digital distractions, solutions that leverage technology for positive outcomes should be welcomed and studied. The robot project in Japan may serve as a crucial case study for the intersection of technology and education.
Although it is too soon to determine whether the robotic initiative will yield significant improvements, the program marks a noteworthy experiment in the realm of education technology. If successful, it could pave the way for broader applications of robots in educational settings, far beyond the borders of Japan.
In Kumamoto, a city of around 740,000 people, 2,760 children of primary and junior high school age were not attending class in 2022, a big rise from 1,283 absents in 2018.
Can robots actually help fix this problem, or is something else required to address truancy? For now, the project is just starting.