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    China Deploys AI, Facial Recognition to Deter Exam Cheats

    Authorities have vowed to crack down hard on cheating in this year’s college entrance exams, with cities using everything from iris scanners to artificial intelligence-powered security cameras.
    Jun 06, 2024#crime#education

    With China’s college entrance examinations — or gaokao — due to begin on Friday, authorities have vowed to clamp down hard on cheating in the all-important tests.

    For Chinese students, the gaokao can be a life-defining event as their score in the exams directly determines which college they are able to attend. It can even define their careers for years afterward, given how much importance many Chinese employers attach to candidates’ educational backgrounds.

    The temptation to cheat is therefore huge. Organized cheating rings have been a problem dogging China’s education authorities for years, with gangs developing ever more sophisticated methods to elude detection.

    On Wednesday, the Supreme People’s Court issued a notice underlining the issue with exam cheating rings and calling for strict sentencing to deter offenders.

    “A multi-layered and highly organized chain of criminal activities related to exam cheating has gradually emerged, which seriously undermines social trust (in national exams),” the statement read. “These acts must be rigorously punished in accordance with the law, especially severe cases that produce grave consequences or adverse social impacts.”

    The notice included summaries of several recent exam cheating cases courts across the country had handled, providing insight into how such schemes operate.

    One involved a secondary school teacher, surnamed Chen, from central China’s Hubei province, who was sentenced to four years in prison for coordinating a cheating scheme during the 2020 gaokao. Chen used their position as a gaokao invigilator to gain access to the exam questions ahead of time, and then leaked the questions to a pair of college students who had been stationed in a nearby hotel.

    The college students then wrote out model answers to the questions, which Chen was able to deliver to candidates in the exam hall with the help of an accomplice. Chen reportedly helped several students cheat using this method, making over 330,000 yuan ($45,500). However, local police arrested Chen and the accomplices after receiving a tip-off.

    Another case involved 16 defendants who organized cheating schemes during China’s civil service examinations between 2014 and 2020. During this period, they reportedly recruited dozens of ghostwriters who sat the exams on behalf of 89 different clients using forged identity documents.

    China has been trying to clamp down on these schemes for years, passing strict anti-exam cheating laws in 2015 that imposed fixed sentences for crimes involving cheating in national exams, illegally selling or leaking exam questions, and sitting tests on behalf of others.

    Since the law was implemented, Chinese courts have handled over 4,000 related cases and sentenced more than 11,000 people, according to the Supreme People’s Court.

    Local education authorities have been deploying increasingly sophisticated surveillance technologies to monitor exam halls, after a string of cases involving students being fed answers via bean-sized earphones or tiny screens embedded in pieces of stationery, such as pencils or erasers.

    For this year’s exams, some local authorities are introducing a real-time exam hall surveillance system that can detect unusual noise patterns — such as rhythmic coughing or tapping — using artificial intelligence.

    Authorities will also employ a range of biometric authentication systems to prevent ghostwriters from sneaking into exam halls. Beijing introduced facial recognition scanners in 2021, while the northern Shaanxi province began using iris scanners for the gaokao physical tests in 2018, advising students not to wear contact lenses. Other regions have reportedly implemented fingerprint-scanning systems.

    (Header image: An anti-cheating poster stands outside the entrance to an examination hall in Yichang, Hubei province, Nov. 26, 2023. VCG)