China’s students leap over the ‘Great Firewall’ to get homework help from ChatGPT

BEIJING, March 9 (Reuters) – Chinese schoolchildren are turning to AI bot ChatGPT to cut homework time – and jumping over the country’s “Great Firewall” to write book reviews and improve their language skills.

With its ability to create top-notch essays, poems, and programming code in seconds, ChatGPT has sparked a global gold rush in artificial intelligence technology.



But it’s also raised concerns among teachers who are worried about the possibilities for cheating and plagiarism.

In China, where the service is unavailable without a virtual private network (VPN), more than a dozen students told AFP they used it to write essays, solve science and math problems, and generate computer code.

Eleven-year-old Esther Chen said ChatGPT has helped cut the time she spends studying at home in half while her sister Nicole uses it to learn English.

Esther, who attends a performance school in the southern megacity of Shenzhen, said she used to spend four to five hours a day doing homework.

“My mom stayed up late until I finished all my homework, and we fought all the time,” she said. “Now ChatGPT helps me to do the research quickly.”

Several students told AFP they bought foreign phone numbers online or used VPNs to bypass restrictions and access ChatGPT.

From a retailer, users can buy a US number for as little as 5.5 yuan (RM3.58), while an Indian-registered number costs less than one yuan.

And for those who can’t scale the firewall, AI Life in the ubiquitous WeChat app charges one yuan ($0.15) to ask a question to ChatGPT, as do other services.

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AI book report

Chinese media reported last month that major tech firms, including WeChat’s parent Tencent and rival Ant Group, were ordered to block access to ChatGPT on their platforms, and state media have branded it a tool to spread “foreign political propaganda.”

But Esther’s mother, Wang Jingjing, said she wasn’t worried.

“We’ve been using a VPN for years. Girls are encouraged to read a lot from different sources,” she told AFP, adding that she is more concerned about plagiarism and keeps a close eye on her daughter.

Esther insisted that she not get the chatbot to do the work for her, pointing to a recent assignment where she was doing a book review of Liu Cixin’s novel Hold up the Sky, a world-renowned Chinese science fiction novel -Author, had to finish.

With a weekly schedule crammed with piano practice, swimming, chess and rhythmic gymnastics, she said she didn’t have time to finish the book.

Instead, she asked ChatGPT to give her a synopsis and paragraphs about the main characters and themes and write the report from that.

“It’s less pressure”

Students also use ChatGPT to bypass China’s lucrative English test prep industry, in which applicants memorize thousands of words with expensive tutors before sitting the exams required to enter colleges in the United States, Britain or Australia .

“I didn’t want to memorize word lists or entire conversations,” Stella Zhang, 17, told AFP.

Instead of spending up to 600 yuan an hour, she dropped out and is now learning by talking to the chatbot.

“It’s less pressure… It also provides instant feedback on my essays, and I can submit different versions,” she explained.

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Thomas Lau, a college admissions consultant in the eastern city of Suzhou, said more than two dozen students he works with dropped out of language schools and chose to prepare with ChatGPT.

But the tool has created new problems.

“I run software on all personal statements and other application materials written by students to see if any parts of it were written with AI,” Lau said. “Many fail the test.”

“Forbid or accept?”

A number of Chinese tech companies, including Baidu, Alibaba and, said they are developing competitors for ChatGPT.

But Beijing is already poised to crack down, saying it will soon introduce new rules for managing AI.

While tools can be accessed in China to determine whether a text was authored with AI, schools are also training teachers to ensure academic ethics are upheld.

“The big debate with ChatGPT in classrooms is whether to ban it or embrace it,” said Tim Wallace, a teacher in Beijing.

But with some teachers using the technology themselves, telling students not to do it is a hard sell.

“Teachers use the tool to create customized lesson plans in seconds,” he said. “We can’t tell students not to use it while we’re using it ourselves.” — AFP