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Four ways China’s schools are keeping tabs on students with new technology

Facial recognition cameras and tracking bracelets found in Chinese campuses

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Schools in China have increasingly turned to electronic bracelets to locate the whereabouts of students. These devices represent a range of new technologies being used to monitor students both on and off campus. Here's a look at some examples.


A school in southern China recently drew an uproar on social media after a blogger discovered that it has been trying to buy 3,500 radio-tracking bracelets to locate students on campus. The tender notice for these devices showed that the school wanted to track how many steps students have walked, how many times they have jumped, and how often they raised their hands.

The smart wristbands were being introduced to ensure students’ safety during gym classes, as well as alert them about latest changes in class arrangement, according to the school.

It wasn't the first campus in China to adopt that technology. A recent WeChat post by Tencent said clients of its smart campus platform are using smart bands to track where their students are. In a testimonial, one school principal told Tencent the smart band helped her learn the strong interest in art of one student, who was recorded to have hung out at the school's arts and craft corner 30 times more than her peers.
A demo shows how one tracking system follows the location of a student in real time. (Picture: Tencent)
But this development has elicited concerns about privacy. One person wrote on Weibo: “It not only infringes on the students’ privacy. How do you guarantee that the information will be kept 100% confidential? What if there’s a data leak and criminals got hold of the data?”


While it is easy to remove a bracelet, taking off your school uniform on campus is much harder.

Look how happy the students are wearing the uniforms! These photos are definitely not staged in any way. (Picture: Guanyu Technology)
Last year, state media reported that several Chinese schools are using smart uniforms embedded with ID chips and GPS function to keep an eye on students. Parents and teachers receive an alert if a student sneaks out during school hours.


A Chinese high school has installed facial recognition cameras in classrooms. Backed by artificial intelligence technology, that network of cameras are able to figure out if a student is having fun in class or dozing off to sleep based on their recorded facial expressions.
A camera seen on top of the blackboard in a Chinese classroom. (Picture: Zhejiang Hangzhou No.11 High School)
Other schools, including the prestigious Peking University, are using facial recognition cameras to identify students and staff at campus entrances. Similar systems scan students’ faces, deducting money from their accounts to pay for meals on campus.


The most unusual example of hi-tech monitoring on campus is a system that helps a school determine if a student has taken a shower.

A university in southern China asks students to scan a QR code on the school’s shower stalls each time they take a bath, so it knows how much to charge them for water.
"Tap when you're done showering," says the app. (Picture: Xiaoxiang Morning Post on Miaopai)

News of the QR code-enabled shower stalls lit up China’s social media with lively banter and collective exasperation. One Weibo user asked: “Why don’t they put one in the toilet as well?”

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.