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Feeling anxious about going to school? A school district in Kumamoto, Japan thinks it might have a solution.

According to the Japanese newspaper The Mainichi, the southwestern Japanese city will soon allow some students to attend class via telepresence robot in a fascinatingly futuristic — if eccentric — effort to tackle the school district's attendance problem, which the authorities say has drastically worsened over the last few years.

"Aside from letting them view the classes, the robots allow students to move freely in space and communicate with others at their own will," one such official told the newspaper. "Hopefully, this can help lower the mental hurdles for truant students."


Per the report, the rolling robots feature a wheeled base, which is attached to a long stem affixed to a tablet. Students operate the robot's movements from home, communicating with others and interfacing with teachers by way of video chat throughout the school day.

According to the Mainichi, the district says that a total of 2,760 students at elementary and junior high schools within the city "were not attending classes in the 2022 academic year," a figure that has gone up year-over-year since 2018, when the city saw a comparatively low 1,283 absentees across the middle and junior high school-aged children. Those figures are legitimately concerning, and according to the newspaper, robots aren't the district's first effort to curtail the problem. Before this, the district took to offering the more run-of-the-mill solution of online classes. And as the district reportedly tells it, these "virtual classrooms" were working as intended, with students self-reporting that the online system reduced their communication anxiety and even improved their self-esteem.

Now, it seems the school board is leveling its digital services up. Per the report, two telepresence robots are set to hit the hallways sometime around November, with district officials arguing that the devices provide absentee students with the ability to socialize and collaborate a bit more with other kids without actually having to physically go to school.

It does feel notable that the effort is only taking place at the elementary and junior high levels. But given the apparent effectiveness of the "virtual classroom" system in improving student mental health, we could see the district looking to offer the robots as a socialization bridge of sorts between online and real-life classes, ultimately — hopefully — preparing sch00l-anxious kids to attend high school in person.

It's a fascinating experiment — and as the Mainichi reports that the school board will do a review of the new system in March, we'll certainly be watching.

More on technology and education: High School Teacher Confesses to Using ChatGPT for Work

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