The Director's Blog

China: Education and AI

China’s use of surveillance cameras and AI in schools and universities remains a developing, and to some Chinese citizens, a controversial issue.  “In a detailed plan published in 2018, the Ministry of Education suggested that schools explore a new teaching model based on AI, including using artificial intelligence to monitor the teaching process and analyze the performance of students and teachers… Schools across China have enthusiastically adopted AI, particularly facial recognition technology. The systems are not only used to gain entry to and secure school facilities, they also record student attendance and handle enrolment.” (Echo Xie, Inkstone).

In some schools students must pass through facial scanners to enter classes and dormitories, “while cameras above the blackboards in classrooms keep an eye on their attentiveness… as a part of the ‘smart campuses’ campaign promoted by the Ministry of Education. The universities are at the forefront of a national effort to lead the world in emerging technologies and move China’s economy up the value chain.”

Cameras in canteens also are used to manage the distribution of school meals; in classrooms, they monitor whether students enjoy their classes. Incredibly, “according to a video posted on the platform Douyin last year, cameras in the school’s classrooms can pick up seven emotions among students – neutral, happy, sad, disappointed, angry, scared and surprised.”

But not everyone in China is happy with this initiative. Firstly, it does not always work accurately or helpfully. One student claimed that changing the spectacles she wears could fool the system. At the same time monitoring dormitory access can lead to unhelpful line-ups. Perhaps later versions of the technology will resolve these issues.

More seriously, a Beijing father, possibly reflecting the feelings of many, wrote on August 23, “When we were young, we didn’t want our parents to monitor us every day, so if one person is being watched by an electronic eye every day, it must have a big impact on his or her psychological health.”

A professor of Information And Communication Engineering at one university also questioned the system’s usefulness: “AI does pretty well in a narrow area, such as playing chess, but students are very complex, with different behaviours, psychology and study models, so for now AI is very weak on assisted learning… the best use is to check attendance and monitor the overall situation in class, rather than scanning faces.”

The Chinese Ministry of Education has acknowledged growing concern among teachers, students and parents over the use of AI applications in schools. Earlier this month, it released guidelines tightening the range of students’ personal data that app developers can collect. The ministry’s director-general for science and technology said that the ministry had also appointed a specialist panel to look into data security and privacy concerns. “We will restrict and regulate the adoption of AI on campuses. For now, we call on school authorities to use these technologies with extreme prudence,” the official said.

Source: Echo Xie, Inkstone: (“School Surveillance Questioned: ‘Why do We Need To Monitor Them?’”).

Pray for wisdom for the Ministry of Education as they seek to work out the best use of this technology.

Pray for the impact that it would not be negative for students and teachers in China.

Pray that many in China’s education system would come to know the Lord, who runs the ultimate AI system! “The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.” (Psalm 14:2)