Schools across the United States reportedly handed out laptops to pupils for distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic — and then spied on them with the very same electronic device, according to a Monday report from The Guardian.
What are the details?
According to recently released research from the Center for Democracy and Technology, 86% of teachers polled said their schools provided electronic learning devices — such as tablets, laptops, and Chromebooks — for students to use at home at nearly double the rate when compared year over year.
Many of those devices, however, were reportedly being used to monitor students — even going as far as to "[comb] through private chats, emails, and documents" — in order to protect them from harassment and suicidal ideations.
The research noted that more than 80% of teachers surveyed admitted that their schools used such surveillance software on those student devices.
One anonymous administrator told the Center for Democracy and Technology that many teachers believe that spying on kids for the greater good will have only positive impacts on the students being surveilled.
"We knew that there were students out there having ideations around suicide, self-harm and those sorts of things," the administrator said. “[W]e found this [student activity monitoring software]. We could also do a good job with students who might be thinking about bullying ... [I]f I can save one student from committing suicide, I feel like that platform is well worth every dime that we paid for [it]."
Administrators noted that technology that might help reduce the rate of bullying or teen suicide can only work to benefit students and their families, thus creating a more harmonious school experience.
The study also found that students using school-issued devices were, naturally, "monitored to a greater extent than their peers using personal devices," and noted that students in underserved communities were more likely to be surveilled when compared to their more affluent peers who may utilize their own personal electronic devices.
"[Local educational agencies] with wealthier student populations reported that their students are more likely to have access to personal devices, which are subject to less monitoring than school-issued devices," the report added. "Most prevalent community concerns were focused on appropriate use of student activity monitoring data for disciplinary purposes."
The study's authors concluded, "With the expansion of school-issued devices and student activity monitoring software, this study examined their impact and whether student recipients of school-issued devices were subject to more monitoring than their peers using devices that they or their families own. Based on reports from LEAs, it would appear that students using school-issued devices are subject to more monitoring than their peers using personal devices."