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Classroom cams raise debate at university

By Zhang Yangfei | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-04 09:40
China Pharmaceutical University in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, has installed facial recognition systems in two pilot classrooms as well as school gates, dormitory entrances, the library and laboratory buildings. [Photo/Xinhua]

A university in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, has installed facial recognition systems in classrooms to monitor students' behavior, sparking a heated debate online.

China Pharmaceutical University recently installed the systems in two pilot classrooms as well as school gates, dormitory entrances, the library and laboratory buildings.

Xu Jianzhen, director of the university's library and information center, told ThePaper.cn that the systems will help teachers check student attendance and monitor behavior during the lectures.

"In the past, some students just checked their attendance and ditched the class or asked other students to check the attendance for them. Now with facial recognition, that would no longer be a problem," he said.

"The moment you enter the classroom, the camera will monitor you all the way through and can tell how long you lower your head, whether you're playing with a smartphone, whether you're dozing off or reading other books," he added.

The news has raised wide debate on Chinese social media, with many questioning if the cameras will infringe on students' privacy.

A Sina Weibo user said: "I oppose such methods, and it is not clear whether the systems are developed by the school itself or by third parties. If it is the latter, is there any regulation of security? Where will the information be sent and stored?"

Gan Xiangsi, a senior student from the university, said she welcomed the systems being applied in dormitories and libraries as this can help prevent personal belongings being stolen, but it is not necessary to use such technology in the classroom.

"If the teacher teaches well, the students will be interested," she said. "On the contrary, this kind of monitoring will make everyone feel resistant."

Xu told ThePaper.cn in response to the privacy concerns that the university had consulted the public security bureau and legal departments. The classrooms are public places, so it will not infringe personal privacy.

China Pharmaceutical University is not the first university to use facial recognition technology on campus. Many universities across the country have installed cameras at campus entrances to ensure safety. But many are also hesitant when it comes to applying such technology in classrooms.

"This issue has been debated for quite a long time," Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, told China National Radio.

According to Chu, teachers and students who are under surveillance might not behave as they normally would since they know they are being watched.

"Surveillance cameras should not be installed in classrooms merely for effective teaching purposes," Chu said, as teachers are also being observed.

He agreed that "students' privacy needs to be protected." He also said that not putting classrooms under control is an important principle.

"If you don't follow this principle, students will falsify and disguise their state of listening, and teachers may also not perform as well. Then real teaching will not occur," he added.

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