Last updated: 13 March 2023
Published on: 20 June 2016
4 MINS READ
Pepper and Nao are a hit with preschoolers in Singapore. Meet the social robots who can teach you a lesson or two.
They listen attentively when you talk, they are fun to interact with, and they make storytime come alive with their cute actions and mannerisms.
And they are ever ready to assist teachers.
Meet Pepper and NAO, the two social robots currently supporting some pre-school teachers with lessons delivery in the classroom, under a pilot study initiated by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA).
Speaking at the opening of the Infocomm Media Business Exchange (imbX) 2016, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information said, “We need to start with the young and help them learn skills for the future – computational thinking, coding, design thinking and also storytelling”.
Fittingly enough, the buddy robots were on display at the IDA Pavilion during the four days of imbX from May 31 to June 3, in an exhibit titled 'Preschool of the Future'.
Under the auspices of the Infocomm Media 2025 Plan, IDA has been introducing technology-enabled toys progressively to 160 pre-school centres to foster creativity and problem-solving skills among children, through its Playmaker programme.
Taking this technology-driven initiative a step further, IDA, in collaboration with Softbank Telecom Singapore and Nanyang Technological University Robotics Research Centre is currently conducting a pilot study to explore the impact of using social robots in early childhood education through collaborative play and interactive storytelling.
The seven-month pilot study (Apr-Oct 2016) is happening at two pre-schools; with Pepper at My First Skool, Jurong Point, and NAO at MY World @ Bukit Panjang.
This pilot study also includes the development of relevant lesson plans as well as gathering good practices on the use of social robots in a pre-school setting.
IDA said it hopes these friendly robots — which can see, sense, touch, talk with human gestures, and listen — will eventually complement traditional teaching methods by adding new elements of imagination into playing and learning for pre-schoolers.
Education experts have observed that children, especially pre-schoolers, learn through imaginative play and storytelling.
The introduction of age and developmentally-appropriate technologies like these robots can enhance pre-schoolers’ learning experience and develop their creativity, particularly when they are also encouraged to interact in a group setting to learn to work as a team.
A Hit in the Classroom
Ms Rachel Manykam, the principal of My First Skool Jurong Point (top photo, left), said, “The children have responded well to having a robot in the classroom. Several children who were rather quiet have also opened up and asked the robot questions.”
When Pepper the robot was first introduced to a class, the six-year-olds were full of questions, recalled their teacher, Ms Archana Mandar Godge.
“They asked Pepper a lot of questions like: ‘Where did you come from, where is your family, how will you grow, what’s your favourite colour, how do you sleep?’ One even asked if he had come all alone from Japan.”
In one of the lessons, Pepper related to the students the classic children’s story of the tortoise and the hare. The robot then asked a series of questions not just about the story itself but also quizzed the children on how the tortoise felt about eventually winning the race, offering them multiple choice answers.
This helps the children to not only grasp the storyline but also to understand emotions as well, said Ms Manykam.
And the children seem to have taken to the robots really well.
“Pepper is the future of Singapore robots,” said potential robotics expert, six-year-old Nikole Liang enthusiastically.