When AI applies to education in China, it is a sizzling cocktail you might want to drink up

The elementary school in China starts to use facial recognition technology for entry registration and the video caught quite a bit of attention lately. In fact two years ago, many local universities already implemented a similar solution (see link). Today it has simply fast-forwarded to cover more schools.

Last year, we talked about how facial recognition and emotion analysis have been applied to monitor students day to day in-class performance, becoming a new whip for China’s tiger parents (see link).

Believe or not, in a country where parents and teachers are so academic-results driven and willing to spend a big budget, AI found itself in a sweet spot.

Let us check out some new examples:

To achieve a good score for the official exam, Chinese students usually have to practice many small tests or mock exams, maniacally, before the “final judgment day”. This could leave a huge burden of marking the papers onto the teachers’ shoulders. So how about image recognition come to rescue? See below video demo:

Teachers use iPad or phone camera to take the photo of the test paper, thus the errors and scores will be automatically spotted and computed. The automation can be applied to multiple choice, “True”/”False” type of questions, however, capabilities for “fill in the blank” or “long text Q&A questions” are still working in progress.


It is also aiming to help students learn their mistakes by creating a feature called “Digital Mistake Notebook”. The idea behind is students do not need to care for the answers they get them right but only remember the wrong ones so as to avoid the same mistakes during the final exam.

And for those who would like to provide an immersive English learning ambiance for the students, here is an interesting tool which allows you to scan the real physical environment with all the objects attached with English words. See video demo:


It is said above-mentioned AIs are now implemented in over 300 public schools in Zhejiang province. The startup behind is a bunch of Chinese Ph.D. students based in the UK in which they continue to develop the core algorithm and R&D.  Meanwhile, sales efforts and project management are gradually pushed into the Chinese market.

Its penetration into 300 public schools is actually not through direct sale. The founder has a close connection with a channel partner which sells educational software to major public schools in Zhejiang. Needless this channel distributor has settled a profound relationship with the local ministry of education, otherwise, how would you be a long term vendor for public school? The startup puts its solution under the white label and integrates it with the channel partner’s existing software and apps.

Realistically speaking, this startup’s AI in image recognition application is neither revolutionary nor mind-blowing. In China, a slew of startups is pulling the same rabbits out of the hat to attract money from the lucrative education sector. They are mixing the AI cocktail which could be put into those easy use cases and generates quick wins. The key is again finding potential customers to drink it up. The success will depend on one vital condition:

  • the founder’s background who can capitalize on his existing network to close the sales deals, either via direct sales or channel partners

If any entrepreneur considers that the value of good technology and good pricing might help him smoothly navigate the water of the steamy B2B water in China, he is acting childishly and believes in the fairy tale. There is no absolute principle of fairness in the B2B. So cut the crap, even forgetting about public speaking or personal charm (see link).

However, the hardest part is startup will quickly hit the wall as soon as the founder’s network reaches the maximum limit. Thus the next move should be telling a compelling story and raising funding from investors. Because you need the money to poach the best sales talents within the sector. Because you need the money to build a solid sales team. Otherwise, your sales funnel is simply entrenched in the same circle of mud; your business would hardly scale up.

Few local entrepreneurs told they might spend half of a million to recruit a “Sales Superman”, but soon kick the Superman out if he cannot open more doors and meet the revenue KPI the very next year. As harsh as the rule might sound, no matter how passionate entrepreneurs claim their technology to solve a business problem and change the world, fundamentally they are still all in this for money and money tends to be cold-hearted.

By: Cecilia Wu