Learning with robots is a relational experience, one that provides a very different approach than learning with the help of a computer or other electronic devices. The attention for body and movement through robotics stimulates development of basic skills and capacity for learning. Visuo-spatial, visuo-motory and social skills are essential for students with Special Educational Needs.
Robotics technology can help teachers in providing emotional assistance to students with special needs, as robots are non-judgmental and patient in their interaction. Such assistance will then motivate these students to learn and engage better. The usage of robotics is also in-line with the Ministry of Education’s Program Pendidikan Khas Integrasi (PPKI) philosophy, in supporting students with special needs to become competent, independent and productive individuals.
A research by the University of Birmingham showed that usage of humanoid robots improved children’s basic learning skills. Robots can be used in many activities. For example, in memory games, a robot that simulates a child’s behaviour can encourage students to imitate the robot’s movements. Thus, helping them become engaged and motivated with learning. The research also noted that, students tend to find robots charming and non-threatening, making it an excellent therapy buddy and helping with the development of social skills.
How Can Robotics Help Learning in Children With Autism?
Students with autism often experience social drawbacks as they do not make eye contact and have trouble noticing social cues such as a smile or a grimace. These cause them to struggle when expressing themselves. Generally, robots provide a safe and predictable playful environment for children with autism to enjoy and interact (Dautenhahn and Werry, 2004); moreover, the use of robots as therapy tools has shown positive impact in learning process.
There is a positive receptiveness from autistic students towards robots, as they know robots are non-judgmental. Students no longer worry about discriminated by their behavior or inadequacies. Studies have shown that humanoid robots can help autistic children develop the social skills they need. In studies done to help children with autism learn social skills, therapists have used robots and behavioral analysis that utilizes play to increase children's desire to learn good social behaviour
Robotics in Special Needs Education, Made Possible by TM ONE
TM ONE recently showcased the potential of robotics as an effective educational tool in special needs education, at an event for students with Special Educational Needs under the Program Pendidikan Khas Integrasi (PPKI) at SMK Batu Muda, Kuala Lumpur in Daerah Sentul on 30th April 2019. This event was part of Program Transformasi Minda Anak Muda by Malaysia’s Ministry of Education (MOE), aimed to encourage the involvement and interest of students by introducing various educational opportunities.
The 80 participating students under PPKI at SMK Batu Muda are diagnosed with autism and attention issues, students with special abilities, slow learners, Down Syndrome, blindness, deafness and others. The students had the opportunity to meet, touch and interact with the robots. They were excited to approach and even dance with the robots, and when asked if they would like the robots to teach them in class, all the students cheered and replied positively.
Dr Habibah Abdul Rahim, Deputy Director General of Education at the MOE together with Dr Ahmad Rafee Che Kassim, Director of Education Planning and Research Department (EPRD) were present along with TM ONE Education Solutions team, brought excitement to these special children. Joining them was Feilina Feisol, Chairman of The National Autism Society of Malaysia (NASOM), witnessing how students with autism and attention issues react to robotics.
TM ONE presented three different types of robots during the event.
NAO is a humanoid robot normally used as an education-teaching tool and is especially helpful in assisting teachers dealing with special need students. During this event, we saw children with autism interacting with the NAO in a different way compared to their normal interactions with other people. Humanoid robots are especially effective at teaching socialization skills to autistic children, by acting as peers and aiding them with the necessary social skills. This type of humanoid robotics is suitable for special need students as they can move, dance, recognise, listen to and communicate with the students.
The students were also receptive to SANBOT, a smart mobile robot fitted with an ergonomic design blended with technology. The students were excited to explore SANBOT’s touch panel and to communicate with it. SANBOT is a brilliant tutor and assistant for these students, as its cloud-based services and information platform enable self-learning capability.
Also featured was the KINOVA Robotic Arm, which was mounted to a wheelchair to help students with physical disabilities achieve better movement. The KINOVA robotic arm demonstrated how robotics can help people with special abilities to participate productively in driving the digital economy.
TM ONE will continue its efforts with innovative solutions to support the education sector and schools nationwide. Robotics is not intended to replace human teaching, but to assist and magnify the effectiveness of teaching and learning. The use of robotics in special education enables active learning, inclusiveness and sustainable development of the specially-abled community in supporting Industrial Revolution 4.0.