How Chinese schools are secretly using AI to evaluate students' essays

How Chinese schools are secretly using AI to evaluate students' essays
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12 Jun, 2018

Several schools in China are running an artificial intelligence (AI) engine to evaluate students' essays and are not telling parents about it, according to a report in South China Morning Post.

The technology, which is similar to the e-rater system used in the US for testing postgraduate students' essays, is being used by more than 60,000 schools - nearly a quarter of the total schools in the country. 

The AI engine not only checks spelling but can also follow the flow of the essays. It ranks down an essay for veering from the relevant topic and can provide recommendations as well.

The report quoted the scientists who developed the technology as saying that the engine was mandated to assist teachers and help them assess papers quickly, cut down biases and also help students do better with the feedback mechanism. 

The report said that the technology was developed and tried quietly and the team that developed it also works for the government and military surveillance programme.

Parents were not informed, the results of the test were classified and the students did not even know that their essays were marked by a machine.

“We are treating [the test] with extreme caution. What happens on campus stays on campus. The test results will not be revealed to the public,” Wang Jing, director of the academic affairs office in High School Affiliated to Renmin University, one of the country’s most prestigious schools, was quoted as saying.

He added that this approach was in line with the the non-disclosure agreement with the project team.

However, the AI engine isn’t working as smoothly as intended because it reportedly gave low grades to some good essays.

A similar system called e-rater is used in the US, which identifies features related to writing proficiency in student essays so they can be used for scoring and feedback.

The e-rater engine provides a holistic score for an essay as well as real-time diagnostic feedback about grammar, usage, mechanics, style and organisation, and development. This feedback is based on natural language processing research

Similarly, an AI system built by Jack Ma-led Alibaba’s Institute of Data Science Technology helped point out errors in essays written in Mandarin Chinese last year.