The Big Brother School System…
Since December 2017 the Chinese education system has been subject to an experiment ripped straight out of the pages of a sci-fi novel. Artificial Intelligence surveillance on students. The image conjured by website Sixthtone.com weaves a disturbing glimpse into the future of education technology as it describes a boys realisation his classroom was being monitored and his facial data captured without his consent.
A pupil in Beijing who for the purposes of the article is known as ‘Jason’ was surfing the web one day only to stumble upon a social media thread entitled #ThankGodIGraduatedAlready and upon clicking it he was presented with an top down photograph of a typical Chinese classroom setting, the backs of rows of students facing a teacher had been captured by an overhead camera. The image upon inspection had several students heads boxed of with subtitles describing the subject’s level of attention, from focussed, distracted to engaged if they were answering questions. Upon even closer inspection ‘Jason’ realised the uniforms of the students pictured were that of his own school. This sci-fi drama had quickly become a sci-fi horror as Jason recalled he had never been invited to consent to this surveillance.
In July 2017, China’s highest governmental body, the State Council, released an ambitious policy initiative called the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan (NGAIDP). This new plan was designed to help turn China into the world’s leading A.I. Power by integrating artificial intelligence into all aspects of life ; Medicine, law, transport, environment and ‘intelligent education’
Upon interview the man at the helm of the surveillance systems development explains the culture of Chinese parents is immensely hands on. He’s describes in interview how teachers are usually bombarded by parent’s questions requesting information on their child’s progress. “Did my son fall asleep during English class again?” he says, mimicking the questions parents might ask. “Did my daughter and her desk mate talk too much during class? Should we separate them?”
He explains how the devs feel the tech allows schools to send the data to parents and the school through a mobile app and demonstrates an example of a report “For example, this student’s report shows that he rarely volunteers to answer the teacher’s questions in class. So his participation in English class is marked as low. Number of questions answered: one,” Zhang reads from the AI-generated report. “This week, the student spent 94.08 percent of class time focusing. His grade average is 84.64 percent. He spent 4.65 percent of the time writing, which was 10.57 percent lower than the grade average.”
The system is named the “Class Care System” and the developer head Zhang believes it means no child will left behind as the children who receive the most attention in a classroom setting are the naughtiest and the cleverest ones. The average child isn’t getting the same attention and Zhang says the Class Care System will remedy this.
Here is Sixthtones visual breakdown of the system which is quite enlightening and their full article here: https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1003759/camera-above-the-classroom
Zhang says the Children must consent to the surveillance and when asked what the children think of the tech he replied. “They hate it.” Some schools within the trial even had students revolting against the monitoring by unplugging the system just before final exams.
Whatever your take on the implementation of tech in the classroom. It’s important to ensure that we move forward into this modern era with a mindfulness to considering the potential mental health impacts of going home and be berated by your parents for not answering enough questions in maths that day.
The terms intelligent education and Class Care System are carefully developed terms of propaganda masking a possibly darker reality. Schools in Shenzhen have been collecting biometric data by fingerprinting their students and three and half thousand facial recognition patents were acquired in China alone. A concerning future is barrelling down on us, Whilst we might not quite be on the precipice of a 1984 style Big Brother dystopia one thing is increasingly clear. Tech is integrating into our daily lives inextricably and we have to ensure we remember the importance of going outside, reading from paper not screens and retaining a semblance of individualism and privacy.
“Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively are less free.”