School surveillance of students via laptops may do more harm than good


(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) Ever since the start of the pandemic, more and more public school students are using laptops, tablets or similar devices issued by their schools.

The percentage of teachers who reported their schools had provided their students with such devices doubled from 43% before the pandemic to 86% during the pandemic, a September 2021 report shows.

In one sense, it might be tempting to celebrate how schools are doing more to keep their students digitally connected during the pandemic. The problem is, schools are not just providing kids with computers to keep up with their schoolwork. Instead – in a trend that could easily be described as Orwellian – the vast majority of schools are also using those devices to keep tabs on what students are doing in their personal lives.

Indeed, 80% of teachers and 77% of high school students reported that their schools had installed artificial intelligence-based surveillance software on these devices to monitor students’ online activities and what is stored in the computer.

This student surveillance is taking place – at taxpayer expense – in cities and school communities throughout the United States.


For instance, in the Minneapolis school district, school officials paid over $355,000 to use tools provided by student surveillance company Gaggle until 2023. Three-quarters of incidents reported – that is, cases where the system flagged students’ online activity – took place outside school hours.

In Baltimore, where the public school system uses the GoGuardian surveillance app, police officers are sent to children’s homes when the system detects students typing keywords related to self-harm.

Safety versus privacy

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