Schools adopt swipe cards for toilet breaks

By Sarah Price

Here, Sir: Jasmine Carr demonstrates Ryde Secondary College's swipe-card system, which monitors students' movements.

Here, Sir: Jasmine Carr demonstrates Ryde Secondary College’s swipe-card system, which monitors students’ movements.
Photo: Janie Barrett

PARENTS are pushing for a statewide roll-out of electronic tracking of students to combat truancy.

Swipe cards, SMS alerts to parents and fingerprint logging are already in use in some schools and have led to a dramatic drop in absenteeism.

NSW Federation of Parents and Citizens Association president Di Giblin said the success of the swipe-card and SMS systems should lead to them being installed across the state.

Public Schools Principals Forum president Cheryl McBride said if the systems were working, the Government should look at implementing them more widely.

Ms Giblin said: “[Technology] has been highly successful in being able to find when young people are absent from school.”

But civil libertarians said the monitoring of students – even on toilet breaks – was going too far. NSW Council for Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said there were better ways for teachers to keep track of students “that don’t require this degree of invasion of privacy”.

Vladimir Ostashkevich, from Academy Attendance, a manufacturer of electronic attendance systems, said demand from schools had tripled in the past three years. About 70 NSW schools – the majority of them being public – had implemented the system. One Catholic diocese reported about half its schools used an SMS alert system. “This is the future, this is what schools are doing,” Mr Ostashkevich said.

Ryde Secondary College deputy principal Warren Reardon said a swipe-card monitoring system, in conjunction with an SMS system that alerted parents of unexplained absences, had cut truancy by up to 40 per cent in 18 months.

“It’s had a huge impact on our middle school in terms of increasing academic outcomes, decreasing detention, increasing good behaviour,” he said.

Ryde Secondary College students are required to run an identification card through a card reader if they are late, need to leave early, go to the sick bay, see the principal or visit the toilet during class time. A print-out is created – featuring a photo of the student and log in and out times.

Mr Reardon said problems with students smoking when they moved around the grounds during class times, using a toilet break as an excuse, had reduced dramatically. But, he acknowledged: “We’ve got to be sure it’s not a draconian thing.”

The school will trial a fingerprinting system next year.