Cameras in our classrooms: surveillance in schools on the rise

by James Reid24 Feb 2015

Amid reports of serious misconduct in schools around the country, is classroom surveillance really such a bad thing?

Near total surveillance of schools is nothing new in the UK and US. In the UK, 1.28 million students are fingerprinted daily and over 106,000 closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are installed in classrooms and hallways.

According to one professor, the practice is also now becoming increasingly popular in Australia, with increased safety concerns, including fear of terrorism, influencing the general public's attitudes towards surveillance. 

Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide, Andrew Hope, says that while surveillance in schools is fuelled by the safety and wellbeing of staff and students, it can also undermine trust and stunt student engagement.

“In most cases, school surveillance initiatives are introduced to protect students, and while the safety of children is important, we must not lose sight of their rights to privacy,” Hope said, adding Australia needs to be careful it doesn’t follow the path of the UK or US. 

“Excessive use of surveillance devices can threaten the values of a progressive education, undermine trust, stigmatise individuals and limit the potential for student engagement.”

While there are concerns that this kind of surveillance is a “slippery slope” issue, those who advocate it might view security measures like these as a welcome deterrent against potential crimes.

The Royal Commission was told on Monday that eight Knox Grammar teachers were involved in a string of child abuses between 1970 and 2003, and that the school failed to inform the police despite being aware of the complaints.  

The Commission also heard evidence that a number of files of students who lodged complaints of abuse may have been deliberately destroyed, eliminating crucial evidence into the crimes.

Digital surveillance technology in some Melbourne schools serve the dual purposes of preventing truancy and giving parents peace of mind of knowing where their children are.

“In Melbourne, some primary school students who walk or cycle are required to swipe a card when they arrive to school, which generates an automatic email notifying parents, and dataveillance [surveillance using data] has been used to estimate student disengagement and dropout rates,” Hope said.

“Surveillance is largely used to reduce people’s fear of crime and disorder. Many have differing views about the level of surveillance they think is appropriate, but generally people largely ignore surveillance technologies in their everyday lives until they intrude in a negative manner,” Hope said. 


HAVE YOUR SAY: Do you think security cameras in classrooms is invasive or practical?