Last month at a demonstration held in front of 150 government officials, one of the white egg-shaped robots – which are all named “Engkey” (a meaningless abbreviation of ‘English’ and ‘key’) - spoke, asked questions, conversed in English with students and even entertained the crowd by dancing to music. Officials said that that they had trialled a black Engkey, but students had not reacted as favorably to it as the white model.
There were high hopes that, if successful, the white English-teaching robots could solve Korea’s chronic English-teacher problem. "They won't complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months” said a scientist working for the Korea Institute of Science and Technology, echoing long standing complaints in the private education or 'hagwon' sector about foreign teachers who come to Korea expecting minor technical contract details such as time off and pay to be honored.
However, despite the initial hopes there are claims that the difficulties with the robot teachers began almost immediately after the launch party, with a girl who had attending it claiming that one “Engkey” had followed her home. Later, pictures surfaced on Korean websites showing a number of the white robots dancing with young Korean women who were not wearing their burqas.
By the next week it was claimed that several of the robots were coming into class late, looking scruffy and smelling of oil. After one Engkey was said to have stopped half-way through an increasingly slurred sentence and fallen over, the pilot school – suspecting drug use – called the local police in to investigate. However, according to a police statement the Engkey was “unable or unwilling to provide a urine sample” in accordance with the racially-based law which requires foreign English teachers to submit to testing while exempting Koreans working in the same jobs from similar tests.
The prototype robots, which are made by Graystone Industries, are not classed as Korean nationals and therefore have no legal rights or status. Had the pilot program been a success, local companies had planned to reverse engineer the design to create domestically more-acceptable Korean versions, although legal experts working with Korea’s chaebols have argued that even Korean robots should not be given too many freedoms or legal rights, as this might give their company employees and millions of other ordinary Koreans unreasonable expectations and unpatriotic ideas.
The 'Daygu Native-English Teachers Association' - who risk being replaced by the robots - said in a written statement "its impotant english is taught propperly by naitive speekers U cant re-place us with robots its not the answer 2 koreans dificulty lerrning english".
VANK, which regularly follows and harasses foreign English teachers in order to further its goal of “promoting a positive image of Korea”, says that VANK members went through one of the robot’s trash last weekend finding several used condoms and “direct evidence of drug use”, although they did not specify whether this evidence was of drugs which are illegal in Korea, or other addictive and mind-altering substances such as alcohol, kimchi, tobacco and medical stimulants whose use is not only legal but practically mandatory in Korean society. VANK members are typically highly dedicated to protecting Korean society, often choosing to go unmarried which frees them to spend large parts of their time at home VANKing with material on the Internet. A spokesman for the group, who is known to be one of the biggest VANKers in Korea, said that "Korean women must be protected from these foreigners' sexual immoralities."
The condoms are likely to raise alarm among other conservative groups, who have already voiced concerns about the implications of the Engkeys breeding with Koreans and creating a fusion Korean-machine race which might eventually seek to overthrow Korea’s pure-blooded society.
Despite their sexual immorality and drug-use, the Engkeys and their dubious non-Korean habits have not tried to corrupt every student. One girl at the trial school – who wished to remain anonymous - secretly admitted to us that she had been sitting right in front of an Engkey for its 10am morning English class wearing increasingly short skirts and tight blouses every day, but had failed to make its eyes wander below her neck at any time. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me” Kim cried as she talked to our reporter off-the-record, “but I’ve decided to save up for cosmetic surgery.”
The Engkey currently being held by Daegu police is expected to appear in court on drug charges later this month before being imprisoned and later deported.
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