Is it possible the function of sign in sheets and roll calls may one day be replaced with facial recognition systems and fingerprint scanners? In certain schools, some of this technology is already being used.
Earlier this year, reports that East Para Primary School in Adelaide had adopted fingerprint scanning software to improve attendance tracking data had some parents and privacy groups worried.
However, the school’s current principal, Rick Noack, told The Educator that while the technology was currently being used by staff to sign in when they arrive, his school had not yet begun to use the biometric system with its students.
“Our staff use it to sign in when they arrive but that is a far as we have gone. We are currently waiting for DECD policy,” Noack said.
“At this stage we use it as an electronic roll system in classroom, but make no use of biometric.”
Four years ago, Victory Lutheran College located in Victoria, began scanning students' fingers to track student attendance. The state’s then-privacy commissioner, Helen Versey, said the use of biometrics raised “significant issues” regarding the security of any database containing that data.
A subsequent backlash from parents who hadn’t been informed of the new procedures led to the attendance-tracking software being suspended.
The group representing Australian principals says that while the interest that biometric technologies have for schools is understandable, it is crucial that parents and students are well-informed of their school’s intentions to use it.
Australian Principals Federation (APF) president, Julie Podbury, told The Educator it was likely that such technology would be viewed as useful in schools where CCTV cameras are in use to assist in the identification of students responsible for undertaking “anti-social, undesirable or criminal behaviour”.
“It is very important to communicate the use of all such technology to the parents and students. I would encourage school leaders to frame such communication as a preventative measure,” Podbury said.
Overseas, schools in the US, UK and Asia are using biometric technology to combat truancy, replace library cards and charge for meals. In California, students are logging into their iPads via facial recognition technology which scans the child’s face every 60 seconds, helping them log in if they’ve forgotten their passwords.
Another use of this technology can be seen at St Mary’s School in St Louis, Missouri. There, the facial recognition system contains a 'watch list' of faces belonging to individuals who are not allowed in the school, alerting police if they try to enter.
However, Florida has completely banned the use of such technologies in its schools.
Last year, Florida’s governor Rick Scott signed a biometric ban that prohibited schools from collecting the palm scans, iris scans or fingerprints of its students.
The law not only banned the collection of students’ biometric information, but also mandated that parents and students be notified annually of their rights regarding education records.
Roger Clarke, a board member at the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF), told The Educator that any Australian school using biometric technology is automatically in breach of the nation’s privacy laws.
“Which data protection statute, and which privacy principles, apply to a school varies depending on the system that it's part of. Generally, however, a school must justify the collection of personal data. And sensitive personal data requires considerably stronger justification,”
“We've yet to see any evidence of any school providing such evidence, and hence we believe that any school that requires biometrics is in breach of the law.”
Clarke said a small number of technology suppliers have “tried to get a toehold in the school system by making offers that were too good to be true”.
“Many school communities have been alerted, and have resisted the company's overtures, and have sought media coverage to get the message through. It's very important that the media continue to cover this issue,” Clarke said.
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