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Chinese school uses facial recognition to monitor student attention in class

Neil Connor
A Chinese classroom - Getty Images Contributor

A Chinese school has installed facial recognition technology to monitor how attentive students are in class.

Every movement of pupils at Hangzhou Number 11 High School in eastern China is watched by three cameras positioned above the blackboard.

The "smart classroom behaviour management system," or "smart eye", is the latest highly-intrusive surveillance equipment to be rolled out in China, where leaders have rushed to use high-tech equipment to monitor the wider population.

The system has been installed in one classroom, but will be deployed across the school by the summer, headmaster Ni Ziyuan said.

Some students are already changing their behaviour due to the system.

“Previously when I had classes that I didn’t like very much, I would be lazy and maybe take a naps on the desk or flick through other textbooks,” one student told Hangzhou.com, a news website run by the central government.

“But I don't dare be distracted since the cameras were installed in the classrooms. It's like a pair of mystery eyes are constantly watching me."

The system works by identifying different facial expressions from the students, and that information is then fed into a computer which assesses if the pupils are enjoying lessons or if their mind is wandering.

The computer will pick up seven different emotions, including neutral, happy, sad, disappointed, angry, scared and surprised,

If it concludes that the student is distracted with other thoughts during the class, it will send a notification to the teacher to take measures.

Many Chinese have grown accustomed to their privacy being infringed by the government and corporations, but people have been expressing horror about the new system on Chinese social media.

"If I was still at school, I would not be able to concentrate on anything but that watching eye!" said one comment in Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

However Mr Ni, the headmaster, said that "smart eye" will help improve educational standards.

“It's the same as teachers having an assistant, and it can improve the quality of teaching," he said, according to the Hangzhou.com report.

"Some have said it can infringe the privacy of students, but it only records students’ movements, rather than filming activities in class.

"And those who focus on lectures will be marked with an A, while students who let their minds wander will be marked with a B."

Facial recognition in China timeline

China has seen a boom in surveillance in recent years, and students at Chinese schools and universities are often heavily monitored by CCTV.

Facial recognition has also been used by university professors to test interest levels in lectures, and has been deployed by police at train stations and even pop concerts to help them search for fugitives.

Additional reporting by Christine Wei