In the midst of heated public discussions relating to the Singapore government’s purported encroachment of the privacy of its citizens, a petition has cropped up calling for the Ministry of Education (MOE) to halt its plan of installing device management applications (DMA) on personal learning devices of students.
On 23 January, a Singapore student started a petition titled, “Stop MOE from implementing DMA (Device management application) on students’ laptops.”
It garnered over 2,000 signatures in just 14 hours. At the time of writing, it has over 2,300 signatories.
The MOE intends to install these DMAs on students’ devices be it devices that have been purchased or are on loan from the school as well as personal ones that they are using for the purposes of home-based learning.
The MOE touts three main functions of this application which are classroom management, mobile device management and user management. In essence, the application would allow educations to control and monitor the device, remotely deploy programs at their own discretion, and restrict the usage of the devices.
The petition states:
“We students are unhappy that the MOE requires such a program to be installed on our PLDs, be it our personal ones or ones purchased from the school, due to how little control, freedom, and privacy we have.
“This may also put many students’ information and data at risk to hackers, as they can easily access the data if such program is breached.”
Students are expected to have personal learning devices due to the implementation of the National Digital Literacy Programme for schools and institutes of higher learning which aims to strengthen digital literacy.
One component of that is the Personalised Digital Learning Programme (PDLP), which requires that every secondary school student owns a laptop that is either purchased or loaned from the school, or purchased on their own, by the end of this year.
To help all students afford a personal learning device, a one-off EduSave top-up of S$200 was given to every student last year.
The author of the petition argues that apart from grave security concerns and the breach of privacy, there is still the concern that the DMA doesn’t actually address the root of the problem, which is a lack of self-regulation by students.
The author notes, that even if the DMA is “truly foolproof” and free from security risks, “Blocking the computer will not result in students suddenly acquiring a stupendous amount of self-discipline.”
“Will the DMA help students become more mature? Will it bring about lasting behavioural benefits? Will it solve the root of the problem in the long term? Or will it bring about temporary, superficial, short term consent, at the cost of a permanent opinion malus, a hatred of authority, and a loss of privacy?”
The petition proposes that the money spent on developing and acquiring the DMA could have been better spent on further subsidising laptops for less privileged students and other things like “more in-depth and better training for Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) teachers, researching and developing new and relevant pedagogies, and investing in experiential learning techniques”.
The petition also suggests the MOE to roll out monitoring systems controlled by parents instead, as parents are better able to calibrate suitable time limits for their child, taking into account each individual needs and abilities.
Schools have autonomy to control and restrict PLD usage
TOC understand that schools were informed that the DMA has to be installed in all student devices before they can be used for teaching and learning purposes. Parents are to be briefed about this.
Should parents not allow the DMA to be installed on their child’s personal device, the school has the option of loaning a device to the students, but only during school hours and not beyond that.
On the question of who manages parental control on the device, it was noted that the school should be the one to maintain control and that the school has autonomy in structuring the control of device management.
For example, the school can enable parental controls after school hours, during the weekends, and on school holidays, thus giving parent the option to control and manage the device. However, it is explicitly stated that parents would not be able to override the base restrictions set by the school.
With the DMA, the school and teachers can decide which applications can be installed on students’ devices. They can also block “inappropriate websites with adult and extremist content”, as well as restrict gaming websites and applications. The DMA will also enable teachers to monitor students usage of the device. The discretion on what applications and websites are allowed or disallowed lies with the school.
Netizens outraged by MOE’s policy, deems it unfair and overreaching
On the petition, signatories shared their reasons for supporting this call. Many cited the unfairness of how they have to bear the high cost of these devices out of their own pockets yet will have to relinquish control to school.
Some described it as government overreach.
Others suggested that if the MOE wants to monitor students’ devices, the ministry should pay for it in full.
One person even pointed out that buying these devices from schools are much more expensive than purchasing directly from the store.
Other zeroed in on the issue of privacy and not wanting to give up their privacy. One netizen pointed out that there is a boundary between school and home that should not be crossed.
One person mentioned a student’s right to privacy as stipulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which Singapore ratified back in 1995.
Others talked about how the DMA would make it much easier for hackers to gain access to multiple devices at a time by simply hacking the teacher’s device, which has remote access via the DMA to all their students’ devices.
One person brought up the previous cases of government sites and databases being hacked, resulting in massive data breaches.
One student from Ngee Ann Secondary School described how they have been using devices for learning for several years already and have coped well without the extra features that the MOE now wants to implement.