China Has Started a Grand Experiment in AI Education. It Could Reshape How the World Learns.
- In three hours we understand students more than the three years spent by the best teachers.
- Three things have fueled China’s AI education boom. The first is tax breaks and other incentives for AI ventures that improve anything from student learning to teacher training to school management. For VCs, this means such ventures are good bets. According to one estimate, China led the way in over $1 billion invested globally last year in AI education.
- Second, academic competition in China is fierce. Ten million students a year take the college entrance exam, the gaokao. Your score determines whether and where you can study for a degree, and it’s seen as the biggest determinant of success for the rest of your life. Parents willingly pay for tutoring or anything else that helps their children get ahead.
- Finally, Chinese entrepreneurs have masses of data at their disposal to train and refine their algorithms.The population is vast, people’s views on data privacy are much more lax than in the West (especially if they can get coveted benefits like academic performance in return), and parents are big believers in the potential of technology, having seen how much it has transformed the country in just a few decades.
- Squirrel’s approach may yield great results on traditional education, but it doesn’t prepare students to be flexible in a changing world, the experts I spoke to say. “There’s a difference between adaptive learning and personalized learning,” says Chris Dede, a professor at Harvard University in the Technology, Innovation, and Education Program. Squirrel is doing adaptive learning, which is about “understanding exactly what students know and don’t know.” But it pays no attention to what they want to know or how they learn best. Personalized learning takes their interests and needs into account to “orchestrate the motivation and time for each student so they are able to make progress.”
- Much of Squirrel’s philosophy stems from Li’s own experiences as a child. When he was young, he didn’t have very good emotional intelligence, he says, and reading books on the subject didn’t help. So he spent half a year dividing the skill into 27 different components and trained himself on each one. He trained himself to be more observant, for example, and to be an interesting conversationalist (“I spent a lot of time finding 100 topics, so I have a lot of material to talk with others,” he says). He even trained himself to keep smiling when others criticized him. (“After that, in my life, I do not have any enemies.”) The method gave him the results he wanted — along with the firm belief that anything can be taught this way.
- That’s exactly what China lacks. If you are able to speak multiple languages, you are able to talk to different people; you are able to communicate different ideas