The Think Species
Social and Cultural Essays
By Aral Bereux.
In Hangzhou, China, a high school has implemented facial recognition technology in the classroom. The system scans and stores the emotions of each student’s face every 30 seconds to determine if they are angry, fearful, confused, happy or upset. Hangzhou No. 11 High School categorizes these emotions to determine how the student is progressing.
The government-run system also scans the student’s skills and concentration. According to a local Chinese website, monitoring students’ reading and writing, raising a hand to a question and even sleeping at the desk is a good thing.
The new system is likely to be distributed throughout other Chinese high schools. The system, called the “intelligence classroom behaviour management system,” also tracks attendance. It uses facial recognition to allow the borrowing of library items or pay for canteen lunches, storing the student’s diet and book logs on a local server.
According to one school official, the “subtle facial expressions in the class” can help to “analyse the behaviour of the entire class. And, of course, this is a very efficient way to check attendance.”
In response to the attendance, the system crosschecks its database with students’ faces, making roll call unnecessary. The facial recognition system can determine who is absent in less than a minute.
Ni Ziyuan, the school’s principal, discussed the raised privacy concerns. According to Ni Ziyuan, the tracking technology saves and stores the faces on a local server rather than on the cloud. This protects the students from data breaches similar to those that occurred with the Chinese company Qihoo 360. In the instance of Qihoo 360, surveillance live streaming channels were shut down after several swimming pools and classrooms were live-streamed to the public.
Despite much criticism of putting students under constant surveillance, principal Ni Ziyuan maintains this is a positive education experience.
“With the aid of this management system, it is equivalent to having one additional teaching assistant for teachers, which can improve the pertinence of education and the effect of classroom teaching,” Ni Ziyuan says. He also explains that teachers are also being monitored to improve efficiency.
In the last few years, the Chinese have refined their Social Credit System. This system monitors individuals via CCTV in Chinese provinces and is already proving socially destructive. Using a points-based system, each citizen is awarded points. Dependent on their behaviours monitored in supermarkets, on the street and in employment, citizens are given a positive or negative ranking. Those with high points have access to decent education, health and can travel outside provinces and China. Those who have low points have these rights removed and can be forbidden from travelling or entering certain buildings. The points system carries on for generations, with some families marked as socially unacceptable – the black sheep of China.
As for surveillance in schools, China isn’t alone. In early 2019, Delhi schools in India have confirmed the use of surveillance cameras in all government schools.