Robots are marching into Education

The role of robots in Education is becoming increasingly significant. In particular we are interested in the potential of social robots in education.

The Centre for Literacy of the University of Malta directed by Prof. Charles L. Mifsud has built a reputation for employing the most advanced technologies in the field of education, especially with reference to learning, communication, and language acquisition and development. It has produced various scientific publications in the field:

In recent years the Centre has developed expertise in the use of social robots as learning companions for children with learning challenges, including those on the Autism Spectrum (ASD).  EduRoboKids is a research and development project of the Centre for Literacy.


This project sought to explore children’s interaction with a social robot and their own and their teachers’  perceptions of this interaction in a school setting. The project adopted the theoretical frameworks and practices put forward by the Mosaic Approach (Clark & Moss, 2011) and the Design-Based Research Approach (DBR) (Reinking, 2021), supported by case-centred and action research values (Clark, 1980; Roller & Lavrakas, 2015). These frameworks contributed to the participatory nature of the project, and positioned the educators and students as co-researchers.

Various literature points towards the benefits of social robots in education, including improvements in general learning (see (Belpaeme et al. 2018), for a review of social robots for education), and more specific competencies, such as language (Wang, Yi Hsuan et. al., 2013), literacy (Yueh et al., 2020), and engagement (Davison et al., 2020). Social robots have also been found to be effective for various age groups (see Pu et al. 2019, for a review on the effectiveness of social robots for older adults) and abilities (see Damianidou et al., 2020, for a review on the use of robots in social communication and interactions for individuals with ASD). 

Within the framework of this project, practical social robot learning solutions were developed and adopted to promote and support the English literacy and general learning goals of participating students. The design process was iterative and collaborative through the sharing of theoretical and experiential expertise between all stakeholders involved, including the educators, students, members of the University research team and the school management team. The design plan was executed through a number of teaching and learning sessions over three months in the classroom situation. Multiple sources of evidence at three data collection points were gathered via audio and video-recordings, observations, interviews and various perception-gathering techniques, such as conversations, semi-structured interviews, emojis, online polls and the Traffic Light System. The data generated were analysed using content analysis.

The project was composed of two studies that were held concurrently. The purpose of conducting the two studies was to explore the interactions with and attitudes of children and educators regarding the social robot: 1) in a mixed-ability classroom setting, in the case of Study One, and 2) that of specific children with diverse needs in the case of Study Two, together with their respective teachers and Learning Support Educators. 

The social robot took the role of a learning companion for the students and/or that of a mediator between the students and the educators during the delivery of the mainstream curriculum in Study One, and for children with diverse needs in the achievement of selected goals from their Individual Education Plans (IEPs) in Study Two.

Phase 1

Planning phase to organise the work packages which will be implemented throughout the project.  A number of learning scenarios will be created for each package. There will be a field-trial phase. During this period we will trial the social robots and relevant software packages, ensure digital and connectivity support and initiate the digital production of the promotional and training videos. 

Phase 2

Training for all the educators who will be involved in the research projects. They will be briefed and guided accordingly.

Phase 3

A number of learning scenarios will be implemented with 20 children, 20 parents and 5 teachers. The number of learning scenarios may be increased as required. The program may be repeated.

  1. Introduction
  2. Demonstration
  3. Practice
  4. Reflection on practice
  5. Interviews with children, teachers, and parents
  6. Reporting on the outcomes of the learning sessions through Child-Robot Interaction (CRI).

Phase 4

i. Project evaluation

ii. Finalisation of training video, preparation of which will be on an ongoing basis throughout the project. There will be a number of diverse, learning sessions. This will be beneficial from an educational point of view as the children will have a variety of tasks and activities. As the children will be mixed-ability they will have the opportunity to try a range of tasks. There will be increased opportunities for the sharing of social robots among educational institutions.

1. Education Curricular outcome

 A programme of tried and tested Child-Robot Interaction (CRI) learning scenarios with specific educational objectives which can be replicated in a number of learning contexts. 

2. Research outcome

Through the recording of observed sessions and interviews with the participants with regard to the research questions, there will be a triangulation of research data and findings. 

3. Promotional/training outcome: Through the video-recording of some of the activities, interviews with the consultant, tutors, children and parents, a visual record will be compiled for the creation of promotional and training videos, etc.

4. Implementation Risks and Mitigation measures

Research ethics and data security will be strictly considered in the study. Identification information of the children will not be collected, all data will be anonymised and observations will not linked to a specific child at any phase. Participation in the study is voluntary and the participants are able to end participation at any time. The permission to conduct the study at the school level is to be obtained from the relevant authorities. The consent for pupil participation is to be obtained from their parents. The interaction and tasks between the pupils and the robot are to be defined by the tutors/parents.

Softbank Robotics & ERM book. NAO. (2021). A humanoid robot as a therapeutic mediator for young people with autism

Piavetti, M., Di Battista, S., Agatolio, F., Simaku, B., Moro, M. & Menegatti, E. (2020). Educational robotics for children with neurodevelopment disorders: A systematic review. Heliyon 6(10).

Fridin, M. (2014) Storytelling by a kindergarten social assistive robot: A tool for constructive learning in preschool education. Computers & Education, 70, 53-64

Tommy went to school. He met with two kindergarten groups, one with children of three years of age and the other one with four year-olds. From the beginning of the week, the children carried out preparatory activities about robots. They were read stories about robots, painted robots and made robot figures. Then the classes met Tommy for some fun and educational activities. They had the opportunity to dance with him and to join him in some yoga moves. Each child had the opportunity to interact with Tommy the robot on a one-to-one basis and play interactive games with him on the tablet and to learn new vocabulary through matching words with images.

Tommy joined a group of 9 to 10 year-olds at a live-in at their Primary School.This came at the end of a week where the pupils learnt about robots, made drawings and models of robots and read stories about them.  Tommy shared information about himself and answered the pupils' questions.  The children danced along with Tommy and shared some yoga moves.  Throughout the session the pupils carried out many activities about what they know about robots, what they would like to know and what they had learnt about them.

Professional development sessions in Robot-Assisted Learning (RAL) were held with small groups of Primary school teachers on 03.02.2023.The teachers were introduced to Tommy the social robot, or rather he introduced himself . The team from the Centre for Literacy demonstrated a number of robot solutions which may be used in the classroom or for one-to-one sessions with children who have specific learning needs.  The teachers then discussed the potential for using the social robot as a learning companion with their children.