Sunday, June 14, 2015

Biometric facial recognition in education

Facial recognition is a biometric technology not much used in education.  If it is to be used it has been mooted that it will track children’s facial expressions to gauge response to lessons or on screen learning but it is now starting to creep into identifying and verification of students.

In the UK, facial recognition systems are not used in schools with the exception of one small instance of facial recognition being used in education in 2010 at the City of Ely Community College for registration purposes.  The college no longer uses the facial recognition system as it wasn’t suitable for the purpose intended; the scheme ran for around an academic year before being scrapped.

U-T San Diego file photo
Now the technology has matured over the past 5 years, facial recognition is coming back into education.  Encinitas Union School District, in California, students will log in to their iPads via facial recognition technology for a first-of-its-kind pilot project.  This involves the iPad scanning the child’s face every 60 seconds claiming to help kids log on to technology and for them not to forget their passwords.  If a child cannot be taught to remember their password then what hope is there for the schools to actually educate them!   This is not about remembering passwords or saving time logging on.  This is about constantly verifying the student so that the data controllers running the educational software can accurately gather data on that individual.  So here facial recognition is being used to identify and continuously verify.  Not without controversy though, parents are not happy with this constant biometric facial scanning for a number of reasons, invasion of privacy of minors and a that it a waste of money, with a petition set up against the facial recognition technology being used in this schools district.

“Encinitas Union launched its iPad program in 2012, equipping each third-through sixth-grade student with a device to use for school work and lessons. Since then, the district has put iPads into the hands of all of its 5,400 students, at a cost of $2.7 million.
“It’s creepy to take a photograph of a kid every 60 seconds,” said Gil Saidy, who has a third grade son at Flora Vista Elementary School. “I don’t trust them. I don’t want these roving cameras in my house.”
“It’s a momma-bear’s instinct to protect their child. I just don’t know who has access to the face scans,” said another parent, Darcy Brandon. “Where is the data being stored?”

The pilot program would start with 100 students and, if successful, the technology could ultimately be added to all district iPads. Parents must opt-in to have their child use biometrics.”
At the very least it is an opt-in scheme so hopefully most parents will have the common sense to say ‘no’ to this unnecessary use of facial recognition, desensitising our kids to constant monitoring.
Unlike fingerprint or palm scanning biometrics used in schools, facial recognition is a non-participatory biometric with the ubiquitous scanning happening without conscious involvement.  What else is the facial scanning revealing?   

Educational companies are lining up with emotional face biometrics coming into education gauging how a student is feeling, where their eyes are looking, how they are reacting.  An article from September 2013 reports that SensorStar Labs have a product that records “When the student is looking up at the teacher, the teacher score goes up.  If she looks down at the computer, the computer score goes up. So we’re tracking facial expressions.  If she makes a smile, it might be indicative that is enthusiastic about the topic.”

Facial recognition has also been introduced at St Mary's High School, St Louis, for 'safety' reasons only allowing in to school registered members on the database.  This is thought to be the first instance of facial recognition being used in this way in the States.  There is also a 'watch list' of peoples faces not allowed in the school that alerts law enforcement if those persons of interest try to enter.  Presumably opting out of this facial recognition system is not an option for pupils as it would deny them entry to education.

Facial recognition seems to be emerging as the new educational biometric.  Not for the student convenience or safety, more about verification of data capture... who is where, doing what and when. 

Children are the most data mined section of our society.  Biometric facial verification more accurately authenticates the data grab and profiling of our kids.  

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