China has started a grand experiment in AI education. It could reshape how the world learns. — from by Karen Hao
In recent years, the country has rushed to pursue “intelligent education.” Now its billion-dollar ed-tech companies are planning to export their vision overseas.


Zhou Yi was terrible at math. He risked never getting into college. Then a company called Squirrel AI came to his middle school in Hangzhou, China, promising personalized tutoring. He had tried tutoring services before, but this one was different: instead of a human teacher, an AI algorithm would curate his lessons. The 13-year-old decided to give it a try. By the end of the semester, his test scores had risen from 50% to 62.5%. Two years later, he scored an 85% on his final middle school exam.

“I used to think math was terrifying,” he says. “But through tutoring, I realized it really isn’t that hard. It helped me take the first step down a different path.”


The strategy has fueled mind-boggling growth. In the five years since it was founded, the company has opened 2,000 learning centers in 200 cities and registered over a million students—equal to New York City’s entire public school system. It plans to expand to 2,000 more centers domestically within a year. To date, the company has also raised over $180 million in funding. At the end of last year, it gained unicorn status, surpassing $1 billion in valuation.