Classrooms have always been filled with students who struggle to pay attention to lessons. Focus is a challenge for kids, especially younger ones who have short attention spans, high energy needs, and would rather spend time with friends than learn in class. So far, teachers identify kids who aren’t concentrating by looking at body language including fidgeting or a daydreaming stare. That rudimentary method may be getting an upgrade.

China recently conducted trials of a new tool in the fight to keep student attention: a brainwave monitoring headband. The headbands were developed in the United States by the Massachusetts-based manufacturer BrainCo. So far, reports show that the headbands have been tested on 10,000 Chinese children between the ages of 10 and 17. They could ultimately be used on 1.2 million students.

How The Headbands Function

The headbands, known as Focus 1, were developed in conjunction with the Harvard Center for Brain Science. The devices use electroencephalograph (EEG) sensors to monitor student brainwave activity, which is different during concentration than at other times such as during distraction or when students are at play.

Teachers have access to an app which indicates the attention level of each student wearing the headbands. Headbands also have a set of flashing lights which show different colors for various levels of concentration. If the student is distracted the teacher will be notified either by the headband or by their app. The top three students with strong focus during a specific span of time, such as during a lesson or a class period, may be passively tracked or proactively rewarded.

Reactions To The Trials

By and large, online reaction to the trials have not been entirely positive. Journalists expressed privacy fears as well as concerns that the devices gamify learning and concentration, treating them as more of a programmed function than a learning experience. The UK-based newspaper The Daily Mail reported that the trials are controversial and ran a headline asking “Will your child’s brain soon be scanned in school to make sure they are paying attention?”  An online information site called The Next Web compared a promotional video from BrainCo to an episode in the SciFi anthology Black Mirror. Many of the articles note the lack of academic trials to support the effectiveness of the device.

More Chinese Classroom Technology

This isn’t the first time that China has looked to technology to boost classroom performance. In the past, Chinese schools have brought facial recognition technology combined with “smart uniforms” into classrooms to track student movement around campus. The uniforms have identification and GPS chips embedded into their shoulders. When used in tandem with face-recognition technology placed at school entrances, the system can alert parents and teachers if a student is not where they should be during school hours. It can also catch students who try to get around the system by switching clothing.

Facial recognition technology has also been used to identify how well students are paying attention and if someone is dozing off during lessons. Some schools refer to these cameras as a “teaching assistant” and use the technology for a secondary reason–to monitor teacher performance.

Another piece of technology, radio-tracking bracelets, have additionally been trialed in schools. The bracelets can monitor a student’s number of steps, where they are located, how often they raise their hands during class, and if they gravitate to school areas such as art exhibits which might clue teachers in on an interest they have.

Other Countries Are Also Looking At Headband Trials

China is not the only country working with BrainCo on trials of the Focus1 Device. There are also plans to test the technology in Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and the U.S. Manufacturers boast of the benefits the headbands bring, such as training students to concentrate better and alerting teachers if someone needs help. Manufacturers also say that when the devices are used, less homework is needed. As trials progress, teachers and administrators will almost certainly improve their understanding of ways the technology can improve education.