Is Artificial Intelligence Advanced Enough to Replace Teachers?
COVID-19 and China
AI's Helping hand. Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Let us first briefly talk about the situation of China’s education industry in 2019. A total of 131 financings took place, a decrease of 14.94% compared with the same period of last year and the total financing amounted to CNY 12.512 billion, an increase of 2.44% compared with the same period last year.

It is worth noting that the “2019 Q1 Education Industry Investment and Financing Data” published by Jingmeiti shows that, in the first quarter, 85 early round financing accounted for the highest proportion which reached 65%. The sectors to have received the most number of funding were K12, STEAM education, and other online educational institutions.

According to iiMedia, the online education market in China reached CNY 251.76 billion in 2018, a year-on-year increase of 25.7%. It is expected that the market growth rate will remain between 16% and 24% in the next three to five years. It is estimated that by 2020, the number of online education users in China will further reach 296 million, and the market size will reach CNY 433 billion.

The trend of Education+AI 

Last month, at the "Education+AI" event, a number of educational entrepreneurs, education technology company CEO, CTO, investors discussed the future development trend of "Education + AI" and the current application scenarios. The combination, influence, and future of education and AI.

Exploring new tools, new technologies, and new models in the field of education is to find effective ways to meet the general educational needs of Chinese students on a large scale. Xiaoping XU (徐小平), the founder of ZhenFund (真格基金), talked about the reason why he is optimistic about "Education+AI": 

"Like e-commerce solves the problem of shopping, new energy vehicles solve pollution problems, and AI can realize the fairness and modernization of educational resources. And internationalization, and most importantly, it can help children get the ultimate personalized education."

Xu Xiaoping believes that at present, the AI trend has come, although it seems to be relatively early, within two or three years, a giant may be born. The continuous maturity of AI technology has created a new opportunity for educational entrepreneurs.

Victor Wang the co-founder of Zhenfund said, “Education has never changed in the past ten years or even a thousand years. The emergence of AI has subverted traditional education and various forms and contents.”

In recent years, global AI-related topics have continued to heat up, and “Education+AI” has become one of the most discussed and most optimized tracks. Some people predict that the market of "Education+AI" will explode in the next three to five years.

Parents, educators, and psychologists have been long debating on the topic of the limited amount of screen time children should have, the integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning is starting to change education tools and institutions and in fact the whole education industry.
It is expected that artificial intelligence in U.S. education will grow by 47.5% from 2017-2021 according to the Artificial Intelligence Market in the US Education Sector report. Even though most experts believe the presence of teachers is irreplaceable, there will be many changes to a teacher’s job and to educational best practices.

Artificial Intelligence spends in the education industry in China has increased at 69.4% during 2018 to reach USD 53.3 million. Over the forecast period (2019-2025), spend on AI is expected to record a CAGR of 25.3%, increasing from USD 79.4 million in 2019 to reach USD 383.9 million by 2020, according to ResearchAndMarkets.

At first Artificial intelligence was only limited to measurements and such small activities, then it started to push through to increase the learning efficiency of the students and now it is helping teachers with their teaching method and as well as the teaching content. AI is trying to make education more personalized and change the mainstream method of big class education, but not only in the back end system voice but also through cartoons, pictures of robots and as well as through an image of a real teacher.

The Chinese government has made AI-enabled education a national strategy, a part of an AI development road map that aims to make the country a global center of AI innovation by 2030, according to a government plan released by China’s State Council in July 2017.

Technological innovation is culturally important to China. This is evident in its education system, where primary and secondary schools teach AI courses in classrooms and technology companies like Squirrel.AI are building personalized learning platforms with AI.

As a leading global center for AI innovation, China will remain an exciting market for the foreseeable future. AI investment and solution deployment show no sign of slowing down. Global collaboration will continue to drive breakthrough outcomes for consumers and businesses around the world.

Although AI in the education industry is an infant, some education entrepreneurs in China believe the innovative technology is already smart enough to teach, or at the very least lend a hand.

Beijing-based VIPKID is an English-language education platform that connects students in China to teachers in the USA and Canada through online classes, helping almost 600,000 Chinese students receive additional education each week.

CEO Cindy Mi says that VIPKid’s AI teaching assistant allows classes, and even homework, to be personalized to each student, helping capture the pupil’s attention and drive their performance.

Due to its AI-backed software personalization is done at low-cost, helping students vault one of the major barriers to education. “The goal is to create a class where equity and access are not a privilege,” Mi states.

Liulishuo also is known as LAIX, an education company headquartering in Shanghai, is improving access to education as well, by providing an education service to China’s rural areas. But unlike VIPKID, Liulishuo doesn’t provide AI-assistance to human teachers; instead, it uses AI to create completely virtual educators.

CEO of Liulishuo Wang YI, despite his company’s emphasis on artificial tutors, says that “I think we will always need teachers, but I think AI teachers will play an increasingly important role across the board.”

AI Investments in China

China may have also surpassed the American historic advantage in venture capital investments. One report from China suggests that in the first half of 2018, Chinese venture investments many of which involved AI were higher than in the U.S. Data from 2017 suggest that Chinese AI firms received more venture funding than U.S. companies.

In 2018, 21 investments’ funding amount exceeded USD 100 million each which resulted in 19 companies getting into the 100 million club. Ant Financial and SenseTime are the only two companies which received two investments each over USD 100 million in 2018. In Chart 3, the companies are ordered according to the amount they raised in 2018. In these 19 companies, Automobile is the category with the highest frequency.

There were three AI education companies in 2018 which received more than USD 100 million. According to ITJUZI in 2017 Education had emerged as one of the hottest verticals for the application of AI in China. It ranked third after medicine and automobiles among industries that had witnessed the most changes brought on by AI.

According to the South China Morning Post, the investment in Chinese AI-focused companies now accounts for nearly half of all global AI funding.

Earlier last year, 17zuoye an edtech company which directly translates to “Homework Together” reached unicorn status after raising USD 250 million in a round of investment led by Temasek Holdings. 17zuoye software streamlines the homework distribution and grading process and uses AI algorithms to suggest areas of improvement.

VIPKID has said that they will be using a big part of their latest USD 500 million Series D+ funding for development of AI instruction. They already use AI algorithms to determine learner engagement.

GETChina Insights estimates that Chinese edtech companies raised an incredible USD 842 million in the first quarter of 2018 alone.

In 2018, Tencent and TAL invested 4 times. Tencent's investment in AI track included K12 after-school training, language training, and STEAM education. It shows its comprehensive layout in the field of “AI+ education” is: Education informationization, K12 after-school training, language training.

In terms of financing amount, in addition to the two undisclosed funds, 80% of the financing amount in the “AI + Education” field in 2018 is more than CNY 100 million, and most of the financing amount is concentrated in CNY 100 million to 500 million.

How big of a change can AI bring to Education?

From the beginning of the research on the application of AI in the field of education, there is an overwhelming prediction that the development and application of artificial intelligence technology in education will make a profound change in education. However, today, this huge change is still very hard to see.

According to the survey data provided by CCTV Finance, by the end of 2016, there were more than 400 online education-related enterprises in China, most of which claimed to be AI oriented. 70% of these more than 400 companies faced losses, 10% remained stable, only 5% of the companies were profitable, and 15% on the verge of bankruptcy. In the past two years, the number of enterprises has grown, and this phenomenon is becoming more and more obvious. AI+education comes with burning money.

Some professionals say that many of the “AI+ education” on the market today are not really “AI+ education”. At present, "AI+ education" products are immature, but some companies, as long as they have some functions similar to evaluation or identification, they directly claim to be an artificial intelligence company.

AI has already been applied in education that help students develop skills and teachers with testing systems. As AI+education continue to mature, AI can help fill needs gaps in learning and teaching and allow schools and teachers to do more than ever before. AI can drive efficiency, personalization and streamline admin tasks to allow teachers the time and freedom to provide understanding and adaptability. By bringing together the best attributes of machines and teachers, the vision for AI in education is one where they work together for the best outcome for students.

The purpose of AI+ education has always been to serve people, to liberate people from simple, mechanical, and burdensome work. The most important purpose of artificial intelligence for education should be to allow teachers to free up more time and energy, to innovate educational content, and to reform teaching methods, which will be more helpful to children's growth.

Let us take Koala reading as an example. The company raised USD 20 million in August last year and uses AI to help Chinese students with their Chinese language reading lessons. Koala relies on independent research and development, it has created China’s first quantitative Chinese grading reading system “ER Framework”. By the use of AI, the system detects the difficulties each student's faces and creates a reading course according to their reading levels to provide personalized reading content and language learning solutions.

AI+ education can be subdivided into different sectors, such as K12, language training, vocational education, and many other specific educational fields. No matter which field, the market in China is very popular, especially the English language training and K12 education.

No matter how advanced technology has become, Artificial intelligence cannot replace the role of a teacher. The ultimate goal of education is to educate people. The profession of teachers is not only to impart knowledge but also to invest in emotions, use their own ideas and experience to guide students and help students grow.

AI can provide customized and personalized educational resources. It can easily help teachers to correct homework and test papers. Artificial intelligence can indeed assist education, but it is impossible to completely change the structure of education.

What artificial intelligence brings to education is the change of methods and methods of teaching. AI+ education ultimately needs to return to the content of education itself, focusing on cultivating students' curiosity, creativity, and adaptability.

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