For the first time in history, knowledge can be provided in a personalized way for each student. An education tailored to the needs, learning style and type of intelligence of the student. But things have not changed much in schools because They are governed by 19th century rules with 20th century teachers.
A great Chinese experiment in which artificial intelligence is involved could change the rules of the game forever. The way we learn. And he also wants to export his model to the rest of the world.
China is investing in artificial intelligence. Tens of millions of students now use some form of artificial intelligence to learn, either through extracurricular tutoring programs like Squirrel, through digital learning platforms like 17ZuoYe, or even in their main classrooms. It is the world's largest experiment on AI in education, it is occurring naturally, and nobody can predict the result.
Squirrel has also opened a joint research laboratory with Carnegie Mellon University this year to study personalized learning at scale, and then export it worldwide.
Three things have fueled China's education boom in AI. The first is tax exemptions and other incentives for AI companies that improve anything from student learning to teacher training and school management. Secondly, academic competition in China is fierceFor prosperity or poverty depends on it. Finally, Chinese entrepreneurs have a large amount of data at their disposal to train and refine their algorithms. The population is vast, people's opinions about data privacy are much more lax than in the West (especially if they can get coveted benefits such as academic performance in return), and parents are big believers in the potential of technology , given how the country is transforming in just a few decades.
All this will have unpredictable consequences. At best, they say, artificial intelligence can help teachers foster the interests and strengths of their students. In the worst case, it could further strengthen a global trend towards learning and standardized testing, leaving the next generation poorly prepared to adapt in a rapidly changing world of work.
In a typical center opened by Squirrel in China there are no blackboards, projectors or other equipment, only one table per room, for six or eight people. The teaching method is only through a laptop. Both students and teachers look closely at the screens.
In one room, two students wear headphones, absorbed in an English tutoring session. In another, three students take three math classes separately. They solve problems on sheets of paper before sending their answers online. In each room, a teacher monitors students through a dashboard in real time.
For each course he offers, his engineering team works with a group of teachers to subdivide the topic into the smallest possible conceptual pieces. Middle school mathematics, for example, se divided into more than 10,000 atomic elements, or "knowledge points," such as rational numbers, the properties of a triangle, and Pythagoras' theorem. The goal is to diagnose a student's understanding gaps as accurately as possible. In comparison, a textbook could divide the same topic into 3,000 points. Once the knowledge points are established, they are combined with videoconferences, notes, worked examples and practical problems. Their relationships, how they develop and overlap, are encoded in a "knowledge chart", also based on the experience of the teachers.
While studying, the system updates its understanding model and adjusts the curriculum accordingly. As more students use the system, it detects previously unrealized connections between concepts. Machine learning algorithms subsequently update the relationships in the knowledge chart to take into account these new connections.
Squirrel focuses on helping students get better grades on annual standardized tests. He also designed his system to collect more and more data from the beginning, which has made possible all kinds of customization and prediction experiments. It commercializes its technical capabilities through academic publications, international collaborations and awards, which has made it a favorite of the Shanghai local government.
In the five years since its foundation, the company has opened 2,000 learning centers in 200 cities and registered more than one million students. It plans to expand to 2,000 more centers in the country within a year.
It is ignored how this will change the new generation of students. One thing is clear: memorizing to dump knowledge in an exam, as it is currently done in school, will become less and less important. As machines improve in memory tasks, humans should focus on the skills that remain unique to them (for now): creativity, collaboration, communication and problem solving. They should also adapt quickly as more and more skills fall victim to automation. This means that the 21st century classroom should show the strengths and interests of each person., instead of imparting a canonical set of knowledge more suitable for the industrial era.