A high school in Hangzhou, China has recently been under the spotlight for using facial recognition technology in the classroom. The system scans each student’s face to determine their emotions and actions every 30 seconds. The high school, Hangzhou No. 11 High School, scans and records the students’ facial expressions and categorizes them into happy, angry, fearful, confused or upset.
Aside from recording facial expression, it also records actions like reading, writing, raising a hand, and sleeping at a desk. According to the government-run Chinese news website Hangzhou Network, the system, called the “intelligence classroom behavior management system”, also tracks students’ attendance. The students’ faces that it records are also used to pay for canteen lunches and borrow items from the library.
According to a school official, “The system is advanced enough to capture the subtle facial expressions in class […] This data system can be used to analyze the behavior of the entire class. And, of course, this is a very efficient way to check attendance.” The system makes roll call unnecessary because it can crosscheck its database of students’ faces to determine who is present and who is absent in less than a minute.
In response to concerns over privacy, the school’s principal, Ni Ziyuan told Hangzhou Network that the privacy of their students is protected because the technology saves and stores the faces on a local server rather than on the cloud. This distinction is particularly significant after a data breach that occurred last year by the Chinese company Qihoo 360 shut down hundreds of surveillance live streaming channels after privacy concerns. The channel streamed live camera footage from several public locations including locations like swimming pools, restaurants, and classrooms that were protected only by a password.
Despite criticism, the vice principal insists that the facial recognition technology will have a positive impact on the overall educational experience, he explains, “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.”
He also insists that the cameras are also monitoring the performance of teachers so that they are able to adjust teaching methods based on what appears to be working. Of course, this is not the first time facial recognition technology has been implemented in China. It has also been used to increase efficiency and improve policing.
As for surveillance in schools, China is not the only country that is using technology to monitor its students. Earlier this year, Delhi, India confirmed that it will begin implementing surveillance cameras in all government schools. The technology will allow parents access to streaming footage of classrooms in real time.