Inchworm - The policy wonk whose heart isn't in it

14th May 2010 at 01:00

MONDAY: Should we trust children, or monitor them via webcam? This question is at the heart of a three-day conference hosted by educational surveillance specialists We The Peephole. There's an excited atmosphere in the hall. Lots of interest in The Philadelphia Story: a school authority there is accused of secretly spying on pupils with laptop cameras. Thousands of computers were issued to children, who were allowed to take them out of school. The authority has acknowledged taking more than 50,000 images of its students, many of them in their HOMES! A similar, secret experiment is under way in the East Midlands. The contractors are We The Peephole. Here, too, a test case looms. One pupil's parents claim their son's laptop captured an image every 15 minutes, even when it was in his BEDROOM! Some pictures show him "partially undressed and sleeping", luckily, these were taken in the classroom.

TUESDAY: The morning conference session focuses on airport-style full-body scanners. Can their use ever be justified in schools? The debate is animated, and PowerPointed. Critics say that being able to see through someone's clothes is an invasion of privacy. Headteachers on the other hand seem quite keen. As one of them points out, "it's a lot quicker than trying to GUESS who's smuggling alcohol into the staffroom". In the afternoon, we hear about a new-generation portable brain scanner that could make exams utterly redundant. It works like a thermograph, but instead of reading heat, it measures retained information in children's brains. Inspectors can then precisely calculate levels of attainment - these show up as glowing red patches. No need for invigilators; teachers would be free to retire to the staffroom for their own "heat reading".

WEDNESDAY: A very exciting last day at conference. We The Peephole show us a DVD they've done, envisioning a typical secondary in 2050. It's a very familiar sort of futurism. A sense of optimism is in the air, though surveillance does seem to have a central significance. The futuristic pupils are tall and willowy and clever-looking and at ease with themselves. They all wear electronic tagging devices. Strictly speaking, they're only at "school" in the vaguest sense, as everyone is at home, linked to one another through some shimmering ultra-high definition plasmic spyware. There are fewer teachers, although the IT equipment looks top of the range.

THURSDAY: Self-certificate my CPD. Decide my conference attendance is worth a fortune in CPD points, and declare myself an expert on educational surveillance.

FRIDAY: Get my first educational surveillance gig. Damien from the Department rings. Was I at the conference? Yes. Is this an area the Department should explore? Yes. Job done, invoice on the way.

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