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Pupils wearing the BrainCo in class. Photo: Weibo

Chinese primary school stops using headbands to study pupils’ concentration levels after public outcry

  • Maker BrainCo defends use of devices on pupils in Zhejiang and insists they were not designed to monitor children’s brains

A company that developed a headband to monitor children’s attention spans has defended their use after a public outcry forced a primary school to stop using them.

Zhejiang BrainCo Technology, a company with offices in China and the US, said on Thursday that people had misinterpreted a report about the product that had appeared in The Wall Street Journal last week.

The report said pupils from Xiaoshun Township Central Primary School in Jinhua, a city in Zhejiang province, had been wearing the headband to measure electric signals from the neurons and translated that into an attention score.

But BrainCo’s statement said the product, Focus 1, aimed to help improve concentration, not to monitor children’s brain waves.

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The primary school has since halted their use after an overwhelming wave of criticism on state and social media.

People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, questioned the use of the bands in a Weibo post on Thursday night.

“When a lively child is determined by a machine to be distracted, does he have a right to criticise? Better have more interesting classes to attract children than use technology to closely monitor their attention,” the post read.

“Every child is different and it’s the teacher’s job to teach in line with the student’s ability,” wrote one Weibo user.

“Some children are more curious and have shorter attention spans. Is that a problem? Shouldn’t it be more import to guide children to find their interest?”

The company insisted that teachers did not have access to data from individual pupils. Photo: Weibo

An unidentified official from Jindong district education commission told The Beijing News on Thursday that the school has suspended use of the headbands even though parents and teachers were positive about their use.

Officials were aware of the use of the headbands, which were donated by to the school by a former pupil – named in media reports as Kong Xiaoxian, an investor in BrainCo. The school had been given 50 headbands and pupils only wore them once a week.

Parents were aware the headbands were being used and had raised no objections and the pupils had not reported feeling any discomfort, the official said.

“The feedback was it helped improve the mood in the classroom and foster concentration. It helped teachers to analyse class effectiveness and improve efficiency,” the official continued.

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BrainCo said the Focus 1 device used a brain machine interface band and software, along with meditation training for the pupils, to improve concentration.

It also said that teachers were only given pupils’ average attention score rather than the data for individuals and parents were not allowed to see the reports.

The company was founded by Han Bicheng, a PhD student at Harvard University, and has also been working on an intelligent prosthetic hand. Last year, this product was given a showcase on China Central Television when a woman demonstrated its use during a performance with the celebrated pianist Lang Lang.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: School stops using headbands said to monitor attention