IBM volunteers help school kids build AI skills across Greater China

By | 3 minute read | April 27, 2021

Class of students in China

Technological innovation is reshaping jobs, professions, and industries here in China and across the world. To adapt, we must focus on skills and lifelong learning. This is true for us as individuals, as well as business. Across IBM, we are doubling down on education and skills in our corporate social responsibility programs. In Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, we recently kicked off a new IBM Volunteers initiative to help local school kids build their STEM and AI skills.

The program, AI Enlightenment Season (AIES), entered its 2nd year in October 2020 and was designed to support children in grades 3-8 in select schools across Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. We recruited more than 2,000 volunteers from IBM GCG, along with 15 business partners and P-TECH schools, to deliver AI and STEM courses to students at 200 schools across 60 cities.

Our interest in launching the program was supported by insights from a 2020 study organized by IBM and Morning Consult that showed nearly two thirds (65%) of Chinese students aged 14-18 were interested in pursuing a career in technology. The same study showed that six in ten Chinese students said they wanted to learn more about AI (61%) and cybersecurity (59%), while 39% said they were interested in learning more about cloud technology. Yet, less than three in ten said they had some training in AI (27%), compared to 41% who had been trained in cybersecurity.

To our delight, the response from students and volunteers alike was overwhelming.

We taught courses in everything from rockets to robots. During the pandemic, we offered courses online for free on the Open P-TECH platform. So far, more than 130,000 primary and secondary school students benefited from this program — and so did our volunteers!  IBMer teamwork grew as teams designed classes and delivered them to schools. The program has already received recognition awards both within IBM and from other organizations.

I too got caught up in the enthusiasm for teaching. A former math major in college, I volunteered my time to teach math to a group of 7th and 8th grade schoolkids at Tsinghua University High School in Beijing. It was worth every minute. I was very impressed with the passion and intellect of my students. They were assertive in solving the problems and confidently explained the rationale behind them.

Across Mainland China, IBM Volunteers gave their best to engage with students, despite the global pandemic. At the Shanxi Xinping Primary School, videotaped lessons were shown, and volunteers answered questions by telephone. This Earth Science lesson focused on geology, natural environment and biological evolution. Chun Mei Li, the IBM volunteer who taught on that day remarked, “I am very grateful for the platform provided by the AI Enlightenment Season. This not only helped me realize my dream of becoming a teacher but also increased my motivation to be an outstanding engineer and a mentor to children.”

In the Yongning Township in Yunnan Province in the South of China, many local children had never taken virtual STEM courses before the arrival of IBM volunteers. In their first course called “Magic Rockets”, the students actively interacted virtually with volunteers. There was so much interest in this program which doubled the number of expected students.

As IBMers, it is very important to give back and contribute directly to the communities where we live and work. We were fortunate to be joined by leading IBM Business Partners in Mainland China, including Digital China, E-hualu, AsiaInfo and DHC, who contributed their own talents, technology and expertise. For all of us, building the skills of the next generation is now a way of life and an important way of doing business.

IBM volunteers in ChinaAIES will enter its third year this September. IBM hopes to engage with more clients, partners, and employees in the ecosystem to strengthen local ties and also make a bigger impact on society.

Learn more about the AI Enlightenment Season.