How schools can protect students’ privacy

In a world where our personal data is valuable currency, it may seem that some loss of privacy is the price to pay to access websites and apps. However, when students are involved, privacy becomes a greater problem: we must consider that pupils spend most of their career in K-12 school as minors, and therefore, the responsibility for the protection of their data must fall upon teachers and administrators.

Protecting vs. spying

It stands to reason that school activities should be more closely monitored than what students do with their devices in their free time, but if every step they take is immediately reported to their families, pupils – especially older ones who are approaching adulthood – may feel that they are being controlled rather than protected.
Teachers and administrators have a duty to find a balance between safety and privacy so that schools and families can build a relationship based on mutual trust and guardians are adequately informed about their children’s activities, but without turning educators into a dystopian thought police that instantly report anything out of the ordinary as suspicious.

Where does the data go?

Another issue to consider is the lack of transparency about what third parties are doing with student data. There are legitimate concerns that major EdTech providers may be profiting from personal information collected from users: technology is not only used to manage information about grades and other school-related data, but also about the students’ Web searches and general behaviour on the Internet.
Research shows that an overwhelming majority of users accept license agreements without reading them and are therefore unaware of what data they are giving up: this is unacceptable behaviour on the part of a school administration deciding to introduce a new piece of education technology.
While EdTech is immensely helpful to learning, schools should also choose it carefully, knowing which providers are reliable and which are not, and a solid privacy policy should be a major factor in the selection process. It should not be up to students and parents to investigate about the practices of their EdTech providers concerning student privacy: once again, schools should be worthy of their trust and relieve them of the burden of taking data protection into their own hands.

Educating responsible users

Although adults should take most of the responsibility for the safety and privacy of minors using technology in the classroom, it is undeniable that all Internet users, children and teens included, are responsible for their own security and digital self-image.
Students today are digital natives who use technology instinctively, and although they may appear better than their own teachers at using computers and mobile devices, this often means that they are uneducated about how to employ them correctly and use technology without thinking of the consequences.
School is expected to educate students and prepare them to face the world outside the classroom, and cybersecurity is a vital part of a modern education without which they will be uninformed and exposed to dangers as adults.
While administrators and teachers should do their part to provide a safe experience, students should also know that their own decisions affect their Internet security and should be encouraged to protect their devices from attacks, learn how to recognise a reputable source for their research, and remember that what they post on the Internet has long-lasting consequences on themselves and others: a proper education on the matter of cybersecurity can reduce the problem of cyberbullying and impress upon students that what they post in their teenage years may even affect their future careers.
In conclusion, the protection of students’ privacy should be a concerted effort involving all levels, from the students themselves to the major companies providing them with educational tools: students are only the last link in a chain of collaboration for the protection of their data and should perceive school as a safe place where they can prioritise learning and not be personally concerned about their security unless they are training to use technology responsibly, a valuable skill that will accompany them for the rest of their lives.

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