China has been putting Artificial Intelligence (AI) to use for a number of reasons, like using AI for a social credit score. However, a Chinese company, Squirrel AI learning, is taking AI into a different sphere: education.

As covered by MIT Technology Review and Futurism, Squirrel AI is spearheading AI-enabled education in China. If you think Squirrel is your typical small start-up, it is anything but.

Having trained over a million students, Squirrel is quite possibly a game-changer.

Here’s how AI works in education

The challenge, or the main task, is to diagnose the learning gap of students that will later undergo training.

How AI works in education

Here’s a video that explains the 5 steps of how AI works in education. Detailed post follows.

Step 1:

To analyze that, and to ensure a learning experience better than delivered by a human teacher, AI breaks down every subject, every topic to a granular level.

For example, the technical and scientific teams sit down with teachers and break down primary school science into, say 5,000 elements or smallest conceptual micro-topics.

Step 2:

Next, the student will be put through a test covering these topics. Every question is framed keeping in mind a certain micro-topic. As a result, when a student answers a question correctly, the AI system assumes the student knows this micro-topic well and places the student at a certain level for that particular micro-topic.

Step 3:

As the test proceeds, the AI keeps refining its judgment about how much (and what) the student knows about each micro-topics.

Step 4:

Based on what the system learns about the student, the AI will frame a curriculum.

Step 5:

Using the curriculum, the system will draw out from its bank relevant video lessons, tests and other teaching resources that are tailor-made for the student.

Why AI in education in China

It’s not very difficult to figure out what is driving China is pursuing its ambitions for using AI in education in a big way. The MIT Technology Review points out three reasons:

  1. Incentives: The Chinese government offers various tax breaks and incentives to AI ventures. And artificial intelligence ventures in China that having anything to do with school, education and learning are even more welcome. Businesses, therefore, find the idea of using AI in education doubly attractive.
  2. Competition: There’s fierce competition in China when it comes to education. Success in tests like the National College Entrance Examination, popularly known as the GaoKao, are virtual passports to success in professional life, so parents don’t hesitate in shelling out more money for anything that can improve test scores. With 2,914 universities and colleges teaching 20 million students in China, there cannot be too many markets that are bigger.
  3. Data: Companies and AI startups in China have massive amount data – something that’s the fuel for AI. Not utilizing these mountains of data for academic and commercial purpose may appear pointless to China.

Apart from above, here are two more reasons why China is so keen in pushing AI in education.

4. Conformity: AI can bring in conformity in terms of ideologies and pedagogy. As the rest of the world opens up to more and more wider ideas, China will have to make sure its citizens don’t grumble and toe the line when required.

5. Efficiency: You know how huge China is. Using technology to improve education can tremendously save resources for a nation that’s in a perpetual state of hurry to bring technology in everything.

The benefits of AI in education

Here are the six major advantages of using Artificial Intelligence in education:

  1. Once designed properly, a machine powered by AI can take note of the exact level of teaching the student needs and begin there.
  2. AI can give students more control and power over what and how they learn, as also the pace at which they learn.
  3. AI-powered education will be consistent in its accuracy, unlike humans. That will remove the subjectivity out of teaching, testing or grading.
  4. Education delivered through the help of AI can be re-used without almost any additional costs. That means, the costs reduce rapidly.
  5. Delivering education with the help of AI can remove human bias in the subject.
  6. Artificial Intelligence has the capacity to generate interest in a particular subject for a student. That’s because it can precisely figure out what the student is missing and how to fix it.

The downsides of using AI in education

Just like any other technology, the use of Artificial Intelligence in education is not without its own risks. Some of the disadvantages of using AI in education are:

  1. It can standardize things like any other machine. That means the teaching process can become extremely uninspiring.
  2. Because AI in education aims to achieve standardizing, it will have to remove all vagueness out of the way. That will keep trainees and students ill-prepared for future scenarios that the rapidly changing world around them.
  3. Any AI company or technology that dominates the edutech industry could potentially infuse any cultural, racial or gender bias into the minds of its students.
  4. Most aspects of this technology is in testing phase and it’s nearly impossible to predict the social impacts over time. Without establishing standards for AI (something that Europe could be doing), it’s definitely risky to implement AI for education.

Like it or not, AI might be the future of education

Well, that sounds a strong sentence. And vague too, considering that it does not specify a time-frame.

What is certain is that Artificial Intelligence is the future of education. What is not certain is how it will turn out and how fast.

Consider this: Every child is unique and so their requirements to learn are unique too. Children have their own pace of learning.

If there’s a class of, say, 30 students, there will be likely 30 levels of understanding, since no two children may understand exactly the same kind of things.

The traditional human teacher, though extremely powerful, falls seriously short in serving the needs of each of the 30 students.

Which is where AI comes in.

AI can serve not 30, but thousands of students who have thousands of different levels of learning. And that too without losing efficiency.

Estimates vary a little too much to fully rely upon fully but here’s what it could look like this: With AI, students have a learning efficiency that’s five times of that when they’re taught by human teachers.

Squirrel AI quick facts

Squirrel AI is the leading EduTech company that’s driving AI-backed education in China. Here are some quick facts about Squirrel:

  • Founded: 2014
  • Type: Privately held
  • Number of employees: 1,000+
  • Country: China
  • Founders: Derek Haoyang Li, Jason Wei Zhou, Wei Cui
  • USP: First EdTech company in China to focus on AI
  • Number of centers: 2,000
  • Product: Yixue Squirrel AI, the first domestic adaptive learning engine
  • Cities covered: 200
  • Funding raised: US$ 180 million
  • Valuation status: Unicorn (over US$ 1 billion)
  • Research facilities:
    • AI-driven lab in New York
    • Yixue AI Lab with SRI International
    • Research association with Carnegie-Mellon University


  1. MIT Technology Review
  2. Futurism
  3. Source of the main image: Squirrel website