Does facial recognition technology have a place in our classrooms?
Don’t move. You are being watched.
Actually, quite the opposite – make sure you do move because you may be under the very watchful eye of an intelligent classroom behaviour management system.
If this is the case then your every move is being monitored very carefully and a lack of movement will soon get spotted.
No, it isn’t the first day in April and fake news. Big teacher is very real and happening in classrooms right now but not here in the UK…just yet.
According to government-run Chinese website Hangzhou.com, Hangzhou Number 11 High School in eastern China is using facial recognition technology (FRT) so it can keep tabs on its students.
Three cameras are positioned above every blackboard (yes, they are still used) and they monitor how attentive students are in class.
Photo: SIna News
The idea is simple: the cameras keep a ‘smart eye’ on pupils and effectively ‘learn’ pupil behaviour which in turns influences how pupils behave.
This technology works by performing statistical analysis on students’ behaviours and expressions in the classroom and provides timely feedback on ‘abnormal’ behaviours.
It identifies different facial expressions, the information is fed into a computer which then picks up and logs emotions to assess if pupils are enjoying a lesson or if someone isn’t paying attention.
The cameras can recognise seven different expressions and emotions – neutral, happy, sad, disappointed, scared, angry and surprised. They scan the classroom every 30 seconds and log six types of student behaviour: reading, writing, hand raising, standing up, listening to the teacher, and leaning on the desk.
Photo: Sina News
If a student is distracted during a lesson then the facial recognition software will send a notification to the teacher to take action. An electronic screen also displays a list of student names deemed “not paying attention.”
Teachers can view a report at the end of the class that provides an average of each student’s expressions. The technology can also be used to monitor attendance.
The data is aimed at improving the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning and could therefore be used to evaluate teachers’ performance in the classroom.
The school’s headmaster, Ni Ziyuan, said the goal behind using the smart eye is to help teachers improve based on student reactions.
It could help determine which students were having trouble with lesson material as well as which ones found it too easy.
Proponents of the system argue that it is mainly to show students where they are concentrating the hardest and where they need to focus harder. It also supports teachers go over particular sections of a lesson again if concentration levels have been a problem across a class.
Supporters of FRT say that a teacher needs this technological support in large class contexts and not everyone has the instinctive ‘eyes in the back of my head’ superpower to spot what is going on. Smart eyes make for smart schools because they can watch out for spikes and dips.
Work environments in China are changing rapidly and emotional surveillance is deemed necessary and essential to running an efficient business. Chinese companies are using helmets fitted with brain sensors to check their worker’s concentration levels.
Plenty criticise the use of FRT as a surveillance system when used in classrooms as a way of checking up on pupils’ attentiveness. They say that is it expensive, pressurises pupils and staff and it is completely unnecessary as keeping any eye on students is what teachers should be doing.
Human rights observers argue that using improved standards as a pretext to install surveillance in classrooms fools no one. This is data mining gone mad.
They say that the Chinese authorities are using video surveillance in classrooms as part of a ‘Skynet’ network of technology to keep track and crackdown on dissent.
Secretary of China Human Rights Observer, Liu Xinglian, argues there is the potential for the system to be used as part of China’s “stability maintenance” regime.
School authorities have said the privacy of the students is protected as the images are not saved. Zhang Guanchao, the school’s Vice Principal of Hangzhou Number 11 said that the system only collects and analyses the results of the facial recognition analysis and stores them in a local database rather than uploading it in a cloud.
FRT in the classroom might not be popular it does have use support elsewhere in the school environment. It has been introduced for students buying lunch in the canteen, making purchases at the school shop and borrowing books from the school library.
Video technology can and does change behaviour. When cameras are pointed at us and we know that they are, we can edit our behaviour, make modifications to how we perform and so ‘play’ to the camera.
For GDPR and human rights obsessed Britain this sounds like something out of a James Bond movie and ‘would never happen here’. But don’t be so sure – it could. FRT is being more widely used the world over and not just to catch criminals. Facial scanners are being used in banks and universities.
But should we be that concerned? Teachers are controlling and influencing student behaviour all the time. Surely a supervisory helping hand isn’t so bad? Getting children to learn properly the whole time they are in class is hard work and so advanced digital technology can help make them better learners.
The use of ‘smart eye’ has divided opinion. Whether you think that the privacy of the students is being infringed and damaging to their mental health or whether you think cameras can improve their behaviour, their use in UK schools needs to be debated too.
FRT is a rapidly expanding industry and China has heavily embraced it to boost educational standards – will our own schools be part of this growth?
Video technology can be incredibly useful in helping teachers refine their teaching methods so perhaps it is now time to use artificial technology to maximize student engagement and optimise our classes.