Singapore

MOE allays students’ privacy concerns on learning devices

Software will monitor activities such as search history but not personal data or location information

A software that will be installed in students' learning devices will capture data on their online activities such as Web search history, but it does not track personal information like location, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said yesterday in response to privacy concerns.

The device management application (DMA), which lets schools manage students' usage of tablets or laptops used for learning, will not keep tabs on details like their identification numbers or passwords.

Mr Aaron Loh, divisional director of MOE's educational technology division, gave this assurance in response to criticism that the DMA would infringe on students' privacy and freedom.

The ministry said in March last year that the software will need to be installed on devices issued to students, and in December said this applied as well to students' own tablets or laptops used for school.

The devices are meant to support home-based learning, which starts from the third term of this year, for at least two days a month in all secondary schools, junior colleges and Millennia Institute.

Mr Loh said: "To perform its intended function, the DMA will capture data on student's online activities, such as Web search history in order to restrict access to objectionable material, and device information such as the operating system to facilitate troubleshooting."

The data will be stored in secure servers with stringent access controls, in line with the Government's personal data laws, he added.

Inappropriate websites with adult or extremist content, as well as gaming websites or applications, will be blocked. The DMA can also set screen time limits. Teachers can monitor and control students' screens during lessons, such as directing them to watch videos for learning or sharing their screen.

A petition on the website Change.org last Saturday called for MOE to not install the DMA on learning devices, citing concerns over students' privacy.

The petition had over 5,800 signatures as of last night.

Mr Loh said: "We appreciate the feedback expressed by some students and parents on having greater flexibility over the use of the personal learning devices. We will engage them and see what arrangements can be worked out."

MOE is working towards giving parents the option to manage their child's device after school hours, during weekends and school holidays, he added.

The school will also uninstall the DMA from students' devices upon graduation.

PERSONAL PRIVACY

Still, some students are not comfortable with MOE knowing how they use their devices.

Secondary 2 student Ethan Fun, 14, who uses his own laptop for school work, gaming and social media, said: "Students need their personal privacy and space."

He plans to buy a separate device from school for academic use later this year.

Home digital devices used for school will have to meet school specifications and have the DMA installed, at no charge, to ensure cyber security. This is because the devices will be connected to the school's IT network, Mr Loh said.

Parents interviewed were largely supportive of schools monitoring their teenagers' devices.

Private educator Lim Wee Ming, 45, who has two sons in secondary school, said: "I don't think schools will randomly go into students' devices to see what they are doing. From what I understand, teachers can access the devices to perhaps show students a certain learning function or take over the students' screens, and this is necessary for more efficient learning.

"Anyway, we already send our personal data to companies like Apple and Google, so why kick up a fuss?"

Executive leadership coach Cassandra Nadira Lee, 46, who has a son in Secondary 2, said schools could engage with students to explain why installing the DMA is necessary, so that it does not feel like a directive imposed on them.

"It's not easy, but MOE has to find a balance between wanting to protect them, and ensuring they don't feel like they are being controlled."

Education