Facial recognition in Chinese schools: ‘Big Teacher’ or big help?

24/05/2018

A high school in the tech-forward city of Hangzhou introduced a facial recognition system in its classrooms to monitor its students’ facial expressions and track attendance. Though billed as “teaching assistants” that could help improve students’ behavior, the system has generated intense debate among Weibo users.

 

Cameras installed in No. 11 school’s classrooms reportedly analyze kids’ expressions to determine if they’re reading, writing, raising their hands, paying attention, sleeping or even enjoying a particular lesson. It also tracks and logs students’ emotions, including whether they’re happy, sad or angry.

“Using this system, we can see which classmates are concentrating in class and whose mind is wandering,” the school’s head teacher Ni Ziyuan told local reporters.

The collected data is then used to compile reports on each student’s attentiveness — which can be passed along to parents.

School officials also noted that it could also be used to monitor and improve teachers’ behavior, making it a two-way street.

 

The collected data is then used to compile reports on each student’s attentiveness, which can be passed along to parents.

 

The Smart Classroom Behaviour Management System is a pilot program unique to the school in Hangzhou, the capital of the eastern province of Zhejiang that is often referred to as “the Silicon Valley of China.” Education officials in Beijing haven’t adopted it as national policy.

The news goes viral. A Chinese state media report on the program set Weibo ablaze with commentary. Some see the use of the technology as a heavy handed Big Brother (or Big Teacher)-type approach to education.

At least one parent commented that they wouldn’t enroll their kids in the school. Some saw the system saw it as a violation of privacy. Others see the system as an effective means to sharpen up slacking or disrespectful students.

The Chinese have a saying, 尊师重教, “respect teachers and value education.” Some believe adherence to the maxim has weakened as a result of China’s “one child” policy, with parents spoiling their only offspring rotten. With no instilled respect, some say Chinese students have been slacking off in class, reading, sleeping or watching videos when they should be paying attention.

 

Some see the use of the technology as a heavy handed Big Brother (or Big Teacher)-type approach to education. Others see the system as an effective means to sharpen up slacking or disrespectful students.

 

Hangzhou school integrated facial recognition into its cafeteria last year. By registering students’ faces into a database, a system can process their information and give them their food is mere seconds. It also sends meal reports to students’ parents.

Another step in the tech direction? Several outlets have pointed out that China has been using cameras and facial recognition in law enforcement and other sectors for several years.

Just this March, Shenzhen police announced they were using facial recognition technology to reprimand jaywalkers. To point out their misbehavior, their faces are broadcast at major intersections, according to What’s On Weibo.

The online news outlet said that these types of offenses can lower a person’s “social credit score.” The score is not just a cheeky take on a credit score: it can also affect an individual’s ability to get a loan and other credit-related services.

 

China has been using cameras and facial recognition in law enforcement and other sectors for several years.

 

The countrywide push into facial recognition began in 2015 when the Ministry of Public Security launched a project to build the world’s most powerful facial recognition system, the South China Morning News reported.

The goal was to identify any Chinese citizen within three seconds by matching their face with their ID photo in real-time.

In a video published on YouTube last December,  BBC correspondent John Sudworth tests out the facial recognition system in Guiyang, China. After registering him as a “suspect,” authorities hone in on him as he walks the streets within minutes.

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