Tech Giants Marching into Education+AI
COVID-19 and China
Making new friends. Image credit: Andy Kelly/Unsplash

By the end of 2019, nine educational companies using the concept of AI education, including Greddy technology (贪心科技), Aotu personalized education (凹凸个性教育) and New Intelligence (学堂), had raised substantial funds. In addition, in 2019, TAL launched an AI education platform; Lenovo explorer (联想大象创) and East China Normal University set up a dual innovation center and,  lastly, Sense Time (商汤科技) and the Hebei Provincial Department of Education agreed to jointly build a ‘Smart Education Demonstration Zone.’

Is 'AI+Education' a hot concept?

Each iteration of the science and technology combination will cause a new round of change in the field of education. In the past year, it has managed to migrate from the school service incubation space to penetrate all aspects of education and teaching; however, the implementation of AI concepts and commercial applications is still an emerging sector in this field.

At this stage, the combination of AI and education is mainly concentrated on the four key tracks of education: education informatization, quality education, language training and K12 extracurricular training. The main methods for the intelligent administration are class scheduling, attendance and assessment. Other than that, for online education areas such as emotion recognition systems for students and automated K12 homework platforms to improve students' learning efficiency are gaining attention. 

According to multiple sources such as ITjuzi, Crunchbase and FirstInsight – as mentioned above in the article – since 2018, education companies that claim to have AI technology have raised nearly 130 financings worth around CNY 20 billion. The subsectors include K12, education informatization, quality education, language training, early childhood education, and vocational education. Among these, 41 companies were from quality education track, accounting for 37% of the total number.

Giants show interest

While investment and financing in the primary market are booming, listed companies in the secondary market are not lagging behind. New Oriental, TAL, Internet giants Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, (BAT) firms and tech firms like Huawei, Lenovo, Xiaomi, etc. have all laid out on the "AI + Education" track. 

TAL officially released its AI platform this year; New Oriental launched the “AI class teacher;” Xiaomi launched the “XiaoAi” AI English teacher; the Tencent Smart Campus is said to have covered more than 14,000 schools; Huawei has also launched the "Smart Campus" service and plans to build a Huawei Education Center; Alibaba released its AI “Future Campus.”

In addition, in recent years, Lenovo has increased its investment in "AI + education" through launching its innovation classroom in 2017. This year, the Lenovo innovation classroom and East China Normal University established a dual innovation center. At present, the Lenovo innovation classroom has landed in more than 60 schools, including public schools, international schools, and universities. In 2019 Lenovo also provided comprehensive support for the artificial intelligence laboratory in Hangzhou. 

Is the concept favored by capital?

China is becoming one of the most active regions for investment round the globe. This is transpiring as new AI companies continue to emerge around the world. By 2019, the number of AI adaptive learning companies, being the mainstream of Al-based education, exceeded 100, of which 52 were from the United States, accounting for half of the total number of the world. In addition to China,
AI companies are largely located in countries or regions with advantages in AI technology, including Ireland, Canada, Australia, Israel and India. Examining intervals of the frequency of investment and funds raised, the amount of investment obtained by US companies exceeded USD2.3 billion. Although China is a late-comer in AI-based education, its unique advantages in application and implementation make it one of the most popular regions for investment in AI-based education globally.

According to data from FirstInsight, the K12 training track in 2018 accounted for 18.54% of the total financing amount of that year with CNY 13.81 billion in financing, ranking second in all fields in terms of total investment and mergers and acquisitions in 2018. From the perspective of the number of investment and financing transactions, the field of quality education came out on top. At the same time, the language training track entered a feverish stage with children's English competition in 2018, and the scale of financing has continued to expand.

Some professionals say that many of the “AI+ education” products 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 to help students develop skills and teachers to test systems. As AI+education continues 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 (考拉阅读) 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 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.

Editor: Luke Sheehan
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