Smart solutions make learning fun, engaging

2021-01-02 12:02:48

Children use smart technology-enabled devices to submit their homework in Hefei, capital of Anhui province. GE JUN/FOR CHINA DAILY Companies using emerging tech products to make education more immersive for young children Collating the mistakes of her school tests used to be a nightmare for Lin Yimeng, a 15-year-old student from Beijing, and several of her friends. Nightmare, because it needed a lot of time and effort to find the right answers to the problems, an exercise often deemed as an effective solution for self-improvement. Yimeng has to find answers to five to 20 mistakes for each of her seven subjects, which means an additional hour of studies after her daily homework."Since I am in the last year of junior high school, every minute of sleep is precious to me, not to mention the shortage of an hour," she said. But hope is around the corner for Yimeng and her friends in the form of an intelligent question answering device called Paperang. Developed by Chinese online education startup Zuoyebang, the gadget helps Yimeng to take a picture of the mistakes with her mobile phone. The gadget will automatically print out the question and the answer based on the image. The product has proved to be a boon for millions of Chinese students and also for the makers of other intelligent education products like e-dictionary pens, robots, educational tablets and smart lights. Such products are becoming increasingly popular with students in China, thanks to their use of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence to find solutions for the vexing problems of students. "The new gadget comes embedded with a question bank of 250 million questions. We can also use it to look for the right answers by just taking pictures. We can watch the teachers' guidance via video at the same time, and it serves as a supplementary tool for the traditional way of learning," said Yimeng. It is also important for hybrid studies, where students leverage tech-powered learning tools and online study platforms, a model that has become immensely popular after the COVID-19 pandemic, said industry experts. Some 56 countries and regions closed schools temporarily due to the pandemic. The UNESCO estimates that academic schedules of nearly 850 million young students across the world have been disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "After the four-month-long study at home due to COVID-19-related lockdowns, Chinese students as well as their parents have higher requirements for learning, especially for more intelligent and personalized solutions," said Wang Heng, head of Duojing Capital Research Institute. The demand is spawning a potential multibillion-dollar global market for companies. According to Duojing Capital Research Institute, China's intelligent education hardware market will reach 57 billion yuan ($8.7 billion) in the next two years. This year, the country's smart hardware market will soon enter a trillion-yuan scale with an expected sales revenue of 1.08 trillion yuan by the end of the year, said market consultancy iiMedia Research. A QuestMobile report showed that the sector saw 56 funding deals during the first three months of 2020, despite such deals stagnating due to the coronavirus epidemic. "Sales of intelligent education hardware devices have risen sharply as young and affluent parents in China, especially from the middle-income group, are willing to spend more for their children's technology requirements," said Wang. Hangzhou, Zhejiang province-based Cheng Quping, 43, a father of two children, paid 2,900 yuan for an intelligent small-sized robot. The doll-like robot can talk, tell stories in both Chinese and English and even run after his kids. When Cheng is away on business trips, he can also view and chat with his kids through the robot. "Such robots play a key role in helping children grow up and are a boon for parents who are busy with other chores," he said. Cheng said it was a relief that the robot can perform some educational functions and at the same time take care of their first child, especially after the birth of the couple's second child three years ago. "The country's education industry has reached a critical stage, where the intelligence level of online education needs to be enhanced further," said Chen Jing, vice-president of Blue Elephant Capital, an investor in the education technology field. She said the current intelligent hardware has various types of functions. Virtual reality equipment and smart speakers help extend hearing, touch, perception and vision. There are also other types of devices that are used to solve the specific needs of children, such as translators and reading machines. "Yet another type deals with wearables, which children can use in any kind of scenario, that are portable and profitable," she said.