China's Tech Ambitions and AI Rivalry with the US: Could Kids' Walnut Farm Game Hold the Key to the Future?

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The unexpected victory over 102 other teams – some from schools in the big cities of Beijing and Guangdong – was all the more remarkable because urban schools, which enjoy comprehensive teaching resources, typically have such Perform better in competitions.

“While urban centers are full of learning opportunities. AI programmingRural towns often suffer from a shortage of qualified teachers,” said Zhao Yushun, an internet content creator who volunteers as an online tutor for rural students.

The importance of these courses is that they allow rural children to see a bigger world, offering them more choices.

Zhao Yushun

The win by the Yunnan team – from a remote rural school – was a sign that China's efforts to support artificial intelligence (AI) education in some of the country's remote areas are beginning to bear fruit.

China has taken several initiatives to help promote educational uniformity between rural and urban primary schools through online teaching and equipment donations.

The introduction of modern classrooms and better access to modern technology and programming guidance has resulted in better-educated rural students who can perform as well or better than their urban peers in technical competitions.

“The importance of these courses is that they allow rural children to see a bigger world, and offer them more choices,” Zhao said.

As AI begins to permeate more of everyday life, many kids may take extra curricular classes to learn tech-related skills like programming, a subject that was once only taught at the university level. . Yet, such educational opportunities are mostly available only in well-resourced urban areas.

According to , in 2021, there were more than 80,000 rural primary schools in China. Ministry of Education. The challenge is to ensure that rapid technological change across the country is reflected in rural classrooms.

One such educational equity initiative is “Future Classroom,” a project funded by Tencent Games to build digital teaching facilities in rural schools.

Under the program, classrooms in 43 rural schools in 15 provinces have been equipped with futuristic technology, including computers, 3D printers, laser cutters, VR headsets and programmable hardware.

Students participate in the “Classroom of the Future” in Shaoguan, Guangdong Province. Photo: Xinhua

The project also provides teaching courses and organizes competitions to stimulate students' interest in learning about modern technology.

One of the annual competitions — the Dual Teacher Science and Innovation Camp — involves partnering a rural teacher with an urban guide teacher, who provides technical instruction remotely so the rural teacher can guide students in learning new skills. .

By the time of the December competition, students at Jinlong Mingde Primary School, in Yunnan's Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, had developed a game based on the new technical skills they had acquired. Their “mathematical walnut farm game” – based on the special walnut of Greece – allowed players to learn math while interacting with the design.

The team's success in a major technical competition is an example of how comprehensive training – hardware as well as online teaching support – is helping rural students demonstrate the same level of creativity as their city counterparts. There is easy access to higher education resources.

“First Lesson in AI Programming”, a charity project launched by the China Song Qingling Foundation in cooperation with Tencent, for example, for remote teaching to help young people experience AI programming from scratch. Volunteers are recruited.

The courses aim to help spark students' interest at the start of their development, but it also has another goal: to discover the hidden AI talent in China's vast countryside — a long-term strategic initiative that will shape the future of AI. It could result in an AI rivalry with the US.

Tech courses don't try to teach complex programming skills, but rather focus on nurturing children's interests and broadening their horizons, allowing them to explore a world previously unavailable to them. was

Thoughtful, well-designed course content helps students engage in scripted interactions that last about an hour, allowing them to understand AI functions and learn the basic logic of programming.

Zhao, an internet content creator, taught an online AI science popularization class under the First Lesson Project at a primary school in Fengjie, southwest Chongqing Municipality, in December.

Later he personally visited the school. Fengji County is famous for its dramatic, rugged and mountainous scenery along the Yangtze River. But while the region offers spectacular scenery, it is also a barrier to local development.

Zhao had to make a difficult six-hour journey through mountain roads from the airport in Chongqing to reach the remote school.

Two-thirds of the school's students are “left-behind children,” whose parents have moved across the country for work.

But even here, far from the glitzy tech hubs of the country's big cities, kids now have a ticket to China's AI revolution.


A toddler is chasing a parent's car in the rear left in China.

A toddler is chasing a parent's car in the rear left in China.

“For many people here, becoming a migrant worker like their parents seems to be the only way of life,” Zhao said.

But science classes can open new horizons. “The simplicity of these science classes, devoid of complex coding, allows children to understand the basics of AI,” Zhao added.

In addition to providing Educational resourcesA local teacher told Zhao, online courses have helped children feel valued and willing to try new things.

According to the First Lesson Project website, the program has expanded to 1,600 schools nationwide. By the end of March, about 10,000 children from about 300 classrooms had participated in remote AI courses.

Liu Zhe, principal of Xinha County Experimental Middle School in northern Hebei province, described a long-standing challenge before the campaign to improve access to educational resources for rural students took root.

Students who did well at his school often struggled to complete computer assignments after entering college—sometimes requiring up to a week to complete the tasks they were assigned. Citizen colleagues can complete in an hour.

The most important aspect was the learning process itself, during which our students saw the world like city kids

Yuan Juanlu, Hebei School Guide Teacher

“Before college, concepts like digitization and programming were abstract things for students who didn't get access to computers until university, leading to slow learning and even ridicule. [from classmates]”They said.

Subsequently, Liu's school was selected to participate in the Future Classroom project, giving students access to some of the latest AI technologies.

In a dual-teacher science and innovation camp competition, students from her school, paired with a guide teacher from a middle school in Macau, designed a robotic water-carrying dog. This invention won him the top prize in the Hebei.

“The most important aspect was the self-learning process, during which our students saw the world like city kids,” said Yang Juanlu, a guide teacher at the school.

“Whether they achieve high marks or not, their efforts represent an important step out of isolation and broaden their life prospects.”

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