2050 aims to equip young people to take action and to become volunteers. Ahead of the event in May, we are taking a look at some the companies and people who are taking part in the massive unconference–an open space event with organization powered by participants. 2050 is a volunteer-only, not-for-profit unconference. TechNode is organizing the Explore Expo, an exhibition area for young tech startups looking for exposure.

The education industry is generally viewed as traditional, dogmatic, and oppressive in many Asian countries, especially in China. As China’s edtech sector takes off and begins to attract a deluge of investment, tech companies are exploring more ways to spice up the learning experience. “The compulsory education system is rigid,” Chu Liang, CTO of Ellabook, told TechNode, “but over the past decade, technology has been transforming many industries and sectors. Education is no exception.”

Chu Liang, CTO of Ellabook

Ellabook (咿啦看书) is an ebook reading platform, like Kindle, but for kids from 3 to 12 years-old. The app is animated and interactive, which encompasses a wide range of learning categories like reading skills, English, mathematics, and art.

“For kids that age, having content that sparks their interest is very important, if it doesn’t interest them, learning would be an agonizing process,” said Chu. Applying interactivity and gamification helps engage children and improve the reading experience.

Technology-driven

Behind the fun-loving, adorable animation and design of children’s ebooks is a costly and time-consuming production process. Chu said kid’s ebook reading apps generally cost around $500,000 to $600,000 to develop, and the content takes approximately six months to make—it is impressive for a company to churn out 2 or 3 books each year. But because of its self-developed visualization tools that standardize the whole production process, Ellabook can significantly lower the cost and increase production efficiency. “We managed to bring the cost down to RMB 2,000,” Chu added that their technology makes it possible to produce five ebooks a day. Ellabook currently has over a thousand books in its library. “We are a technology-driven company,” Chu said proudly.  

The Ellabook app on a tablet

Read more: Chinese tech companies turn to games to get kids interested in STEM

But Ellabook doesn’t create the content themselves. Instead, they purchase or license popular IPs. They have bought the Chinese literary classic Havoc in Heaven (大闹天宫), and beloved animation series “PAW Patrol,” and recently obtained the virally popular Peppa Pig’s licensing rights in China. 

The untapped potential of AI and big data in education

MOOCs (massive open online courses) give kids of lesser means a chance to pursue higher education. According to the Ministry of Education, there are currently more than 10 MOOC platforms in China, and over 460 universities and colleges nationwide have introduced online courses through those platforms, totaling more than 55 million viewers. Online education as we know it is making resources and courses available to anyone who has access to the internet, but it is just scratching the surface compared to what AI and big data can potentially do.

Read more: Tsinghua University is using the cloud to make it rain in the classroom

Applications from developing fields like AI and big data are increasingly used in the education industry, but there is still a long way to go to reach full adoption. Chu said that transformative technologies like AI and big data go hand-in-hand; together they have so much untapped potential in education.

“[Other than resources and learning materials], teaching, tutoring, and test-taking are all crucial parts of education in China, and AI can potentially be applied in all of these areas,” said Chu. For example, contrary to the one-size-fits-all approach, applying AI to personalize study plans based on individual performance and weak spots lets students learn at their own pace.

Animated and interactive app design (Image Credit: Ellabook)

Chu said Ellabook’s platform has accumulated over 100 million users’ data, with which they analyze and generate content that best matches their users’ interests—a very basic application of AI and big data, but the team expects to apply the technology in more areas like personalized learning for individual students.

Chu reckons that in five to ten years AI and big data will gradually mature in the education space and the application will be integrated into a much wider and deeper sense. “A lot of the AI-powered education platforms are not truly ‘intelligent’,” Chu said. For example, online courses, problem solver, and live-stream teaching are still very peripheral considering what AI and big data can do. Emerging technologies have not penetrated into classrooms, but when they do, they will influence hundreds of millions of students in China.

The edtech market still has a lot of room to grow, and it’s increasingly competitive. But competition is inevitable, Chu said “as a startup entrepreneur, it is frightening to not have competitors. Any market with a bright outlook is very competitive.”

The future is young

Chu said the past few years of experience as a young entrepreneur have taught him that “living in a fast-moving era, we all need to reinvent ourselves and push our boundaries and it is important not to be narrow-minded.”

The Ellabook team is made up of young people, predominantly from the post-90s generation. When asked about what expectations he has for this generation and those to come, Chu says the tech industry has a lot of opportunities to offer young people and “curiosity is young people’s biggest asset and potential, and they should have the mindset of wanting to change the world.”

Chu will be speaking at the 2050 conference initiated by Alibaba’s former CTO Wang Jian that gathers the world’s young people to share innovative ideas.