Japanese city Kumamoto is stepping up to address the increasing truancy rates exacerbated by anxiety and bullying during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a report by the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, the city is preparing to launch a robot-assisted virtual attendance system in schools to encourage absentee students to return to physical classrooms.
Scheduled for a November rollout, these robots, armed with microphones, speakers, and cameras, will offer a two-way communication channel facilitating remote participation in classes and school activities. Students can control these one-meter-tall, self-propelling robots from their homes, allowing them to engage in class discussions and events within the school premises.
This initiative, a rare occurrence nationwide, as noted by the Kumamoto Municipal Board of Education, aims to diminish the apprehensions faced by children intending to resume in-person schooling. The approach offers a semi-real experience that may help alleviate the fears of children hesitant about social interactions, remarked Maki Yoshizato, a city official.
Highlighting the urgency of the matter, the latest survey from the education ministry disclosed that truancy rates hit a record high of 244,940 cases at the primary and middle school levels in fiscal year 2021. Kumamoto Mayor Kazufumi Onishi emphasized the importance of providing more study options for students unable to attend school, especially following the city’s earlier move to introduce virtual classrooms in the “metaverse” to combat truancy issues.