Minister for Education, Lawrence Wong (Wong), has been criticised for not addressing the mounting concerns that have arisen in the Ministry of Education (MOE) – that of the deployment of the Device Management Application (DMA) on the devices of students and that of how the Ministry has dealt with transgender students.
In fact, Wong has so far not publicly commented on these issues.
MOE recently announced its plan to install DMAs on at least one laptop/personal learning device per student.
Unsurprisingly, this announcement has generated online furore given that it will essentially give MOE the power to monitor what students can or cannot do and will effectively give MOE access to whatever the student is viewing on that device. Not only is this a huge infringement of privacy, but it is also a security risk.
Installation of DMAs on students who use their own or family laptops for online learning would also means giving the MOE unfettered access to their personal devices in which are stored their personal files of not only the student but the family as well. The DMA would also allow teachers to restrict and control the types of applications that are installed on the devices. Privacy and control, in this case, becomes non-existent.
On the point of security, if the central program is compromised, all devices and all students will be similarly compromised. All it would take is one person to hack into a teacher’s devices for them to gain access to all students’ devices which are connected.
Has MOE given due consideration to these risks?
Besides, is MOE hijacking the role of parents? It should, after all, be the parents who have the right to supervise what their children should or should not be viewing, not the MOE.
There have also been concerns raised on whether teachers would be competent in handling such a programme and what kind of protection students would have from “overzealous” educators in charge of managing the application.
At this juncture, one would have thought that Wong would say something. But no, he has steadfastly remained silent.
A silence that is deafening.
The treatment of transgender students
A transgender student, Ashlee, had recently used a throwaway account on reddit/r/SGExams, to recount her difficult experience in school, specifically with MOE allegedly interfering with her hormone replacement therapy treatment that was prescribed by her doctor after she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
While the MOE has issued two statements on its Facebook page which attempt to deny the allegations, its statements did not address Ashlee by name and the first statement even erroneously used the male pronoun instead of the female to describe Ashlee: “...can support his schooling better”.
How can the MOE proffer to support transgender students if it cannot even use the correct pronoun?
At this stage of the game, Wong should really have stepped up as the leader of MOE to address the situation before it escalated further.
Unfortunately, he did not. His silence may well have contributed to why some members of the public felt they had no choice but to hold a peaceful protest outside the MOE. Wong as the Minister for Education in charge of MOE had seemingly ignored their concerns.
To make matters worse, the harmless individuals were swiftly arrested by the police simply for attempting to shine a spotlight on inequality within our education system without causing any damage or violence.
One would have thought that Wong would finally address this personally. But no, still he remains silent.
Among those arrested included students under the purview of MOE. Doesn’t the Minister feel any sense of responsibility towards them?
Things have reached the point where teachers, social workers and other professionals in the education and social work fields have, for the first time ever, jointly and publicly issued a statement of support for transgender students, which has called on MOE to not only take into account healthcare professionals’ opinions in its policies but to also consult the relevant students and their families in the process.
Where is the Minister amid these developments? He is at the helm of MOE as the Minister for Education – where is Wong’s sense of leadership? How can he seemingly hide behind the institution instead of fronting it personally?