2 Aug 2016

Privacy concerns over new school children's database

8:50 am on 2 August 2016

A teachers' union wants privacy assurances about a multi-million dollar plan to collect and share information about school children.

Server room.

The Education Ministry is creating a centralised digital storehouse for schools' records. Photo: 123RF

The Education Ministry is creating a centralised digital storehouse for schools' records so when children move schools their personal information can be transferred easily.

The ministry said the scheme was aimed at overcoming problems caused by schools using different computer systems that are not compatible with one another.

It said up to 90 percent of the information schools collected about children was re-keyed manually every time they moved schools and that created unnecessary work and unwelcome delays.

The project would get around the problem by creating a central storehouse of information that worked with all the different types of student management software. Schools would have access to the information and so would the ministry.

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Louise Green

NZEI Te Riu Roa President Louise Green Photo: SUPPLIED

New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) president Louise Green said re-keying information was a waste of time, but she had some concerns about the ministry's plan.

"You've got to be really careful when you put information on a system about a child that could be used by anybody, anywhere, anytime. So, I think there's some real protocols that need to be worked on around keeping learners safe and their information available to those that need it, only."

Ms Green said a lot of the information schools stored about students was a rich narrative rather than just raw numbers. She doubted much of that would be transferrable and said she would hate to see that sort of information lost.

Principals Federation president Iain Taylor said the project could be fantastic for schools.

New Zealand Principal's Federation National President Iain Taylor

New Zealand Principal's Federation National President Iain Taylor Photo: SUPPLIED

"It's real time stuff in the sense that a kid arrives at your school, they're enrolled, and then the teacher can get exactly where that child's at the minute they start in their class and then the teacher would be able to start teaching them at the level that they've just left at.

"So there's no down time, there's no wasted time re-testing, all those sort of things, so it's definitely a positive."

Mr Taylor said the ministry would need to protect children's privacy, but schools already provided it with a lot of information and there was no problem with that.

The Education Ministry's deputy secretary early learning and student achievement, Lisa Rogers, said it had a proven record of managing children's data well.

"A lot of information that is currently housed in schools' management systems is already given to the ministry by the schools. In fact most of the information in an SMS, like student numbers, attendance, roll numbers," she said.

"So it's not like any new information will come into the ministry."

Ms Rogers said the ministry had consulted with school leaders and they had agreed that a single repository for information was the best solution.

She said the project would have a huge impact on schools because it would make their work a lot easier.

Ms Rogers said the project would cost several million dollars and should be complete within about 18 months.