Gaokao, A.I. and the New Era of Education in China

Many parents waiting outside the exam site wear red wishing to bring luckiness to their children.

June 7th and 8th might be the dates that involve too many feelings and memories for most of the Chinese population — the day of Higher Education Entrance Exam or ‘Gaokao’ takes place. This year, it also remarks the 40th anniversary that Gaokao is resumed after over ten years of the political movement.

Efficiency VS Equality

The significance of Gaokao can be show in every aspect of the society as the whole country comes to a standstill: cars are forbidden to use horns on the stress, hotels near high schools are fully booked months ago, anxious parents take two days’ work off to company their children, some office buildings (including JMDedu office) are closed and staff work at home to reduce the traffic and minimise the noise and potential disturbance.

Since the very beginning, Gaokao is the main talent selection process which explains the phenomenon of the countries’ obsession. Given the enormous population in China, this could be an efficient and effective way of selecting talents but not necessarily the fairest way by imposing years of stress and limiting the students’ development in other aspects other than academics.

Number of Students Participating in Gaokao Each Year. Source: JMDedu

Recent years have seen a steady number of students participating in Gaokao and in 2017, this number is 9.4 million. And the recruitment rate of the universities and colleges has raised from 5% 40 years ago to today’s 74%. The higher education has gradually grown from ‘elite education’ to ‘common education’.

A.I. Joining the Game

This year sets another milestone — there are two A.I. Robots participating the mathematics exam at Gaokao. One is called AI-MATHS, development by the 863 Program of China Ministry of Science and Technology. Another one is developed by a K12 online education company, Xueba Jun, called Aidam. Like AlphaGo, they don’t have a physical ‘robot’ body, but rather a complication computational system.

Why Gaokao? The R&D team of the Japanese robot, Torobo-kun, who has also taken the Japanese university entry exam, answers the question: Computers are programmed to compute, therefore, it is very likely to defeat human components in Game-Theory-based matches, such as chess or poker. However, gaokao test involves not only computation skills but also and more importantly the ‘thinking’ or the information process of problem-solving.

How does A.I. Answer the Questions?

According to RuiFeng Chen, the Chief Scientist at Xueba Jun, the intelligent question-solving system is one of the pioneer fields in the artificial intelligent field. It combines a wide range of technologies including graphic recognition, speech recognition and natural language process etc. and it could be broken down into 3 steps:

1. Understand and recognise the human language, then decode it to the language that computers will understand.

2. Simulate the human’s information process and problem-solving strategy, and try to find out the best way to solve the question.

3. Translate the solution into human language and give details step-based answers.

Among the three steps, the third one is the most difficult.

How Could Gaokao Robots Impact Education?

The goal of Gaokao robots is definitely not to go to university. It’s rather a measurement to see how far A.I. can simulate human being’s process of thinking and understanding. In practice, it’s goal is to improve that education interaction in classrooms and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of human learning. It will have many applications in the future

  • A.I. Teaching Assistant

It could provide in-time answering services. One pioneer of this field is IBM Watson, who launched Jill Watson, a classroom teaching assistant with an accuracy rate of 97%.

  • Intelligent Paper Marking System

With technologies such as graphic recognition and semantic analysis, automatic paper marking will be possible and could significant reduce the burden on teachers. It will also fasten collection process of the learning data from students to provide a further personalised learning system.

What do you think of the Chinese Gaokao or the Gaokao Robots? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!