North Korea seeks to boost education with toy-like robots

A toy-like robot with scowling blue eyes and a North Korean flag on its chest wanders a university classroom in Pyongyang in a recent demonstration of tools designed to help children learn basic math, music and English.

The images, broadcast on North Korean state television KRT, also showed two other larger plastic robots, each with a vaguely humanoid appearance.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been pushing for education reform in recent years by spurring technological and scientific innovation.

“I help teach educational technology that improves the intelligence of children,” said the 80-centimeter (31.5-inch) tall robot with a female voice and waving its arms.

A second robot displayed a smiling face on a screen embedded within a white round head, while another wore a blue plastic suit and white-rimmed glasses, the KRT video showed.

Gary, the autonomous assistant robot that does laundry. (credit: Unlimited Robotics)

Park Kum Hee, a professor at a university in Pyongyang, told KRT that the development of educational robots had its challenges initially, with the robots often shaking their heads when asked questions in both Korean and foreign languages.

“Improving the intelligence of this robot was difficult for me as someone who majored in psychology,” Park said.

“It was the words of our respected Comrade Secretary General (Kim Jong Un) on the adoption of artificial intelligence technology in education that have always guided me to the right path.”

The KRT footage showed elementary school students in masks repeating after the robot in music, math and English class.

“Hello? Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you too. What’s your name?” said two children in English at the front of the class.

North Korea reopened schools in June last year, but forced children to wear masks in classes and washing stations were installed.

The lonely country has not officially reported a single case of coronavirus, but has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and restrictions on domestic travel, and experts have said an outbreak there cannot be ruled out.

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