From TikTok to Trigonometry: Could ByteDance Corner the Market on Edtech?

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

From TikTok to Trigonometry: Could ByteDance Corner the Market on Edtech?
Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash

The pandemic led to an explosion in startups trying to fix online learning. In 2019, funding in the space reached $5.4 billion. By 2021, that number more than tripled to $16.8 billion.

In Los Angeles, startups like Subject and Numerade believe that they can solve issues caused by online education. That said, no one company has been able to figure out a good way to get kids to pay attention to a screen long enough to learn anything. Despite edtech’s massive growth, there was still a steep decline from 2019 to 2022 in math and reading scores across America.


Still, analysts expect the edtech sector to grow as parents seek out personalized education plans for their children. And with the AI boom in full swing, an increasing number of edtech companies turning to the tech to help build their curriculums.

Enter ByteDance, the company behind the wildly successful video-sharing app TikTok.

According to Business Insider, the company is creating an edtech platform, GeniusJoy, that will use AI to build a STEM curriculum. Targeted towards kids ages 10-12, GeniusJoy will seek to improve students' math and STEM skills through courses, guides and quizzes. This comes at a time when American students are seeing record-low math scores. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 38% of eighth graders did not meet basic math requirements, and overall math scores fell by eight points between 2019 and 2022.

What might be less clear to some people is why, exactly, the tech company behind a video-sharing app is interested in edtech.

On the one hand, the move does fit with ByteDance’s quest for world domination. In China, the company has expanded into healthcare, virtual reality and news. It even tested the edtech waters with three different companies, but China’s restrictions on online learning made that endeavor a bust.

Still, it is undeniably a tough time for ByteDance to be expanding its American presence. Its flagship app, TikTok, is facing heavy scrutiny over its data collection. Schools and state governments have banned the app. Even outside of government mandates, people are concerned about ByteDance potentially sharing personal information with the Chinese government.

Which begs the question: would parents entrust their kid’s education to ByteDance? It’s unlikely considering a recent survey found that 52% of American parents don’t trust TikTok with their children’s data.

But here’s the thing: GeniusJoy boasts a tried and true curriculum based on "Singapore math pedagogy.” Crucially, The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study from 2019 found that students in Singapore scored higher in math than any other country, with American students ranking 17th.

More importantly, in 2022, young users spent 113 minutes per day on TikTok—higher than any other social media app. Teens also consistently rank TikTok as their favorite app, beating out competitors like YouTube and Netflix.

All of which is to say, if there’s one company that knows how to keep young people engaged, it’s ByteDance. With access to such a treasure trove of data, the information could, theoretically, be applied to figuring out how to keep young people engaged with a more tailored curriculum.

If the company succeeds, it will then be up to parents to decide which is more valuable, their children’s data or their test scores. And with the ever-increasing difficulty of getting into college, it might not be quite as tough a decision as it currently seems.

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