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Oct 25, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

It may seem like something out of the realm of sci-fi, but elementary schools in Japan are using robots to teach young students English.

The country's Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry plans to encourage early use of robotics, and a forthcoming curriculum change will require that English be taught in the upper grades, too.

Japan News reported that humanoid robot Nao recently greeted 19 third grade students at Meiji Elementary School in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture with a hardy "how are you?" to which the students responded, "super!"

Nao, 58 centimeters tall, speaks pre-programmed words and is operated by a teacher via a tablet. 

Principal Tetsuo Miyashita said, "The children feel as if they are having a real conversation with Nao, and this leads to making them more motivated to study English."

Student support has been fantastic. 

Why now? The need for more assistance in teaching English in Japanese elementary schools is extraordinarily high. 

In elementary and junior high schools, assistant language teachers, or ALTs, visit schools to help with English instruction. 

Currently, there are seven ALTs in Omuta, with only two for the city's 19 elementary schools. The robot helps.

An official on the city's board of education said, “Considering personnel expenses, it would be difficult to hire more ALTs. The introduction of Nao can help in terms of improving pronunciation and conversation skills."

Learn more about studying robotics here.

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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