Student data as goods

Student data as goods

A debate in the United States casts shadow on Europe

rl. With the introduction of electronic data processing in the private and public sector we are able to collect information, deliver messages, manage our personal business or obtain books, music and movies in digital form in a few seconds. On the other hand, the opportunities for misuse have grown rapidly: storage of telecommunications data, including conversation content by the NSA, comprehensive monitoring via camera with face detection (London), collecting and linking of personal data from different domains, browsing habits on the Internet. Consumer habits are stored and evaluated in order to increase sales when buying goods (loyalty card) in stores or on the Internet. Specific customer profiles are created and used for promotional purposes.
The past 20 years have also not passed the field of education without leaving traces. Many classrooms are equipped with computers where students complete tasks, the teacher digitally stores his marks, students’ tardiness or bad behaviour (for example via LehrerOffice).Various data are then forwarded and collected centrally, sometimes evaluated.
Such personal data are of high interest in many places. Now also student data as for example when using tutorials or the use of the Internet have become the target of big corporations.
According to the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” of 25 March a dispute between major learning software manufacturers and parents associations currently take place in the United States about the right on the students’ personal data. Major educational corporations would like to have access to the way individual pupils deal with the tutorials. Of course, they claim, only in order to optimize the software. Parents object that through the disclosure of this personal information, the privacy of their children is disregarded and it is not clear what else will be done with the data.
In autumn 2014, the industry then worked out a declaration of commitment of dealing with educational data. The statement was meanwhile signed by corporations like Apple, Microsoft and later, after some hesitation, also by Google. According to this statement, parents would actively have to request the examination of their children’s records and then request corrections if necessary.
Now, a democratic representative, Jared S. Polis, initiated a draft law that fell far back behind the proposal of the corporations. Consent for the disclosure of personal data would then depend only on the headmaster.
Data on students are not only interesting for the manufacturers of learning software to improve their software or to specifically incorporate coordinated advertising. These data could then be compiled and make exact profiles that provide a relatively accurate long-term picture of a student’s performance and readiness, the skills in individual subjects, the result of learning effort on certain days of the week and specific times. If such data were public, the possibilities of progress at school and in the professional sector could be severely restricted. Of course banks, landlords, advertisers and many others more are strongly interested in such data. The data management of the school in regard to omissions or disciplinary problems has not yet been included in this data collection.
The parents demand the right to decide on their children’s data. Corporations may not use these data without consent for other purposes. In January, Barack Obama promised to ensure that data collected in the classroom are likely to be used for educational purposes only.
When the provider for educational technology ConnectEDU applied for insolvency in April 2014, 20 million student records were offered for sale in the bankrupt’s estate. The further use of the data was unclear. This provider has been supported with 500,000 US dollars by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation before it failed. The Foundation had invested 1 million USD in a project of educational data InBloom that had collected millions of student data. Data security could not be guaranteed. InBloom discontinued.
Now we will see whether the legitimate interests of the parents can prevail in the dispute about the student data or if the elected representatives in the House of Representatives decide against the interests of the parents and for the industry and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation via the lobbying of groups.
In Switzerland, too, different providers with different educational software programs and “educational platforms” are entering the market. More and more schools purchase electronic media from major educational groups. Cantons connect their school communities to centrally collect data about students’ marks, absence or disciplinary behaviour. This development is encouraged because together with the introduction of Curriculum 21 Switzerland-wide test series are planned. Many parents have not yet realized the extent to which their children are now electronically recorded – and will be even more so in the future.     •
(Translation Current Concerns)

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