Japanese city to use robots to tackle rise in truancy


Schools in Kumamoto have purchased two mechanical assistants to help children regain confidence in dealing with teachers and classmates

A city in Japan is tackling a rise in truancy with the help of a robot assistant that officials hope will encourage absentee children to attend classes remotely and eventually coax them back to school.

Two robots equipped with microphones, speakers and cameras are expected to appear in classrooms in November in Kumamoto, south-west Japan, according to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.

Although teachers will continue to be present, the city’s board of education hopes that the addition of the 1-metre-high, self-propelling robots will help absent children overcome their anxiety and give them the confidence to return to in-person education.

Students learning remotely will be connected to the tablet-equipped robots via their laptops, allowing them to “attend” the same lessons as their classmates and take part in discussions, the Mainichi said.

The robots will not be confined to the classroom, however; local education authorities say they will be free to roam school premises and even take part in events.

The board decided to introduce the measure amid concern over a rise in the number of truant children in recent years – a phenomenon apparently accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said 2,760 children of primary and junior high school age in the city were not attending classes in the 2022 academic year – the fourth consecutive annual rise since 1,283 students were listed as absent in 2018.