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Look at all those blue lights. No way those kids are paying attention. (Picture: BrainCo)

Can brainwave-monitoring headbands help students focus?

Pictures of Chinese students wearing the headbands drew criticism on Sina Weibo



This article originally appeared on ABACUS
Putting facial recognition cameras in classrooms, making students wear GPS-equipped uniforms and radio-tracking wristbands: Chinese schools are using technology to manage their students in many ways.

Now kids have to contend with headbands that monitor their brainwaves, drawing overwhelming criticism on Weibo.

Made by a company named BrainCo, the headbands can supposedly tell how focused students are by reading brain activities. These headbands even broadcast the results with a light on the front: Blue means relaxed, yellow means focused and red means very focused.

Teachers can also monitor each student’s attention level through included software.

Look at all those blue lights. No way those kids are paying attention. (Picture: BrainCo)
“Thank god I’ve graduated,” one person commented on a now-deleted Weibo post about the device.

“If my daughter’s school uses this, I will make her quit school,” another said.

Monitoring brainwaves is not as high-tech as it sounds. Using a technique called electroencephalography (EEG), devices can measure electrical signals sent by the neurons in a person’s brain. EEG has been used in hospitals for decades to monitor brain disorders. Certain brain activity has been linked to seizures or lesions.
It’s only been more recently that this technology started showing up in consumer devices touting the ability to determine users’ mental state. While there’s evidence that EEG tech can be used towards this end, it might not be accurate. Outside clinical environments, many factors like sweat and muscle movements could lead to false readings.
Responding to criticism on social media, BrainCo published a statement saying that they’re only offering the headsets to schools as part of an elective course on attention training. The company also said they are not currently selling the products to public schools, instead offering them in free trials.
BrainCo was founded in the US by Chinese engineer Bicheng Han, and the company has exhibited at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for the last three years. Prior to this social media snafu, BrainCo had been the subject of more positive attention in China in the past. Last year, a CCTV science reality show featured a female pianist using BrainCo’s mind-controlled prosthetic hand.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.