Robot teachers replacing foreigners?

by Robert Moorehead

I don’t understand this one, or maybe I just don’t want to. While Japanese researchers focus on building high-tech robots that can provide health care to the country’s growing elderly population, South Korean researchers are building robots to teach English to Korean children. The planet is already teeming with people who can do both tasks, and who could really use a job. So why use robots?

According to the Mung Sam Kim, of the Center for Intelligent Robotics at the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, South Korea has a shortage of English teachers. Plus, past teachers have suffered from a “moral problem.” These robots have no sense of morality at all–a clean slate! The robots will connect to a call center in the Philippines, where English teachers can help the children without sullying up Korean classrooms with their presence.

The $100 million the South Korean government is spending on robotics grants could hire a lot of English teachers, and the same goes for the Japanese investments into robot caregivers. The children and the elderly would have human contact, and after work the teachers and caregivers could go out into the Korean and Japanese economies and spend money, thereby returning money back into the government pension and health care systems.

But then we wouldn’t have cool robots tell us in lame computerized voices that our English pronunciation is not good.

What does this say about the prospects for integrating foreigners into Korean and Japanese society? Why are robots preferable to people? Should I be replaced with a robot?

Link: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Racism in South Korea?

by Robert Moorehead

The discussion of alleged racism in South Korea in The Diplomat sounded so similar to discussions of the same issue in Japan that I wanted to post a link to the article. I can’t comment on the prevalence of racism in South Korea, since I’ve never been there and have read little on the issue. However, the issue of English teachers complaining of racial discrimination is familiar to me.

Like the teachers in South Korea, in Japan I’ve had people avoid sitting next to me on the train or subway, I’ve been followed in stores, and I’ve been harassed by a train conductor who insisted that he had stopped me multiple times trying to evade paying my fare (did he think we all look alike?). English teachers have the same right to complain about mistreatment and to pursue positive social change. But these teachers also have a higher status than other foreigners who face far greater challenges. In both Japan and South Korea, foreign migrant workers toil in low-status and low-pay “3-D” (dirty, dangerous, difficult) jobs that native workers avoid. These workers are often on the margins of the society, lacking legal protections from discrimination.

So how to address both the concerns of the teachers and the foreign migrant workers? What’s behind the allegations of mistreatment, and how can we move forward?