No sleeping in class: Chinese high school installs cameras to monitor student facial expressions

Society & Culture

A network of surveillance cameras backed by facial-recognition technology has been introduced to every classroom at a high school in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Praised by the school’s principal as “insightful eyes,” the cameras are capable of capturing and analyzing students’ body movements and facial expressions during class, offering teachers real-time feedback on how attentive their students are.

According to Sina News (in Chinese), with the newly installed cameras that can tell who might be discreetly taking a nap, students at Hangzhou No. 11 High School are more focused in class than ever. “Before the introduction of these cameras, I sometimes took naps or did other stuff while having classes that I don’t like,” one student told reporters, adding that his classmates all felt the same. “But now, I always feel there are mysterious eyes staring at me, so I don’t dare do things that are unrelated to class anymore.”

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Based on data collected by these cameras, a system automatically creates a report at the end of each day that includes information about how many students look neutral, happy, sad, angry, scared, abhorrent, or surprised. “This system not only motivates students to study harder, but it also supervises the quality of teaching,” said the school’s vice principal.

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On the social media platform Weibo, many people expressed (in Chinese) disgust at the measure, criticizing it as “inhumane” and accusing the school of going too far to monitor students’ facial expressions. “Big boss is watching you,” one commenter wrote. In a reference to a recent statement by the U.S. Embassy in China, in which the U.S. government called Chinese “political correctness” “Orwellian nonsense,” another internet user wrote, “This looks like Orwellian education.”

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