Singapore is piloting robots to teach kindergarten students social skills, it announced today.

Two robots, Pepper and NAO, will each be used in two pre-school centres, My First Skool Jurong Point and My World @ Bukit Panjang respectively. They will be alongside teachers in class, encouraging interactions and creativity during lessons.

Pepper is a human-like robot that can read emotions and learn from human interactions, helping it respond naturally to people. The robot has been used worldwide, from fronting retail stores to helping out in food joints.

Its interactive nature will help increase kids’ participation in class, especially among shyer children. Children have been observed to be curious and less intimated around the robot, initiating interactions with them.

Pepper’s first class in Singapore taught preschoolers about emotions through story-telling. “The story of the tortoise and the hare was used to help students to relate to different forms of emotion”, said Khoong Hock Yun, Assistant Chief Executive, IDA. Children are “able to relate to different situations and what those emotions mean”, he said.

Teachers have found it easier to engage their kids in classes, as Pepper responds to voice, touch and sight. “We want to see higher engagement among different-ability children,” said Archana Mandar Godge, a teacher from My First Skool. Godge explained that there are some kids who need more attention in class, and “with Pepper at my side, it’s much easier for me to do that.”

Teachers are working with researchers and developers from the Nanyang Technological University’s Robotics Research Centre and the robots’ parent company, SoftBank, to develop lesson plans. The robots’ interactive responses will be pre-programmed to match specific lessons.

In her upcoming lessons, Godge will use Pepper to teach pre-schoolers about music, math and decision-making. Pepper will also play a role in helping children “design their own storybooks”.

The pilot will run for seven months, in partnership with Softbank Telecom Singapore, and the NTU robotics centre. It will study how the robot can be used to teach children, and build lesson plans. Teachers will be trained to use the robots during their lessons.

If the pilot proves successful, Singapore aims to expand the robots to other pre-schools.

Read also: Inside Singapore’s plans for robots in pre-schools