SINGAPORE: A device management application (DMA) installed on students' devices does not track personal information such as their location, identification numbers or passwords, said the Ministry of Education (MOE).
In response to queries from CNA, the ministry said the application will, however, capture data on students' online activities such as web search history to "restrict access to objectionable material". It will also capture device information such as the operating system to "facilitate troubleshooting".
"The data will be stored in secure servers managed by appointed DMA vendors with stringent access controls. This is in line with the Government’s personal data laws and policies to safeguard sensitive data collected by public agencies," said Mr Aaron Loh, who is MOE's divisional director of educational technology.
The response comes after an online petition by a student seeking to stop MOE from installing the DMA. The petition said students were unhappy that they had to have the application installed on their devices, citing a "need to defend our privacy".
"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," said the petition, which has garnered more than 6,000 signatures over a week.
READ: Secondary 1 students to own a personal learning device by 2024 under new digital literacy measures
In March last year, it was announced that all Secondary 1 students will own a school-prescribed personal learning device by 2024 under a new national digital literacy programme. Other secondary school students will have such a device by 2028.
After the COVID-19 outbreak when students shifted to online learning from home during Singapore's "circuit breaker" period, these plans were brought forward. All secondary school students will be issued with a personal laptop or tablet by this year.
MOE's Mr Loh noted that during a 2019 pilot of personal learning devices in selected secondary schools, the DMA was installed in those devices.
"Parents and teachers then affirmed the benefits and the need for the DMA. In particular, the DMA allowed teachers to have appropriate controls in place to manage students’ device usage in classrooms," he said.
"Parents were also assured that the DMA could address their concerns about access to undesirable content online ... pornography, gambling ... and excessive screen time."
READ: Home-based learning should be 'a regular part of school life’, possibly once a fortnight: Ong Ye Kung
Following this feedback, MOE implemented the DMA in the nationwide roll-out of personal learning devices, Mr Loh said.
The application has clear benefits in the school environment, he added. This includes "effective classroom management" as teachers can make use of the DMA to focus students' attention. It will also enhance cybersecurity as the devices are connected to the school’s IT network, Mr Loh said.
All personal learning devices purchased under MOE’s device bulk tender will have the application installed before they are issued to students. While existing home digital devices can be used by students, such devices will have to meet the "necessary school specifications" and have the DMA installed without charge, he added.
MOE will bear the full subscription cost of the DMA for all devices and the school will also uninstall the application from the students’ devices upon their graduation.
Mr Loh noted that feedback has been expressed by some students and parents on having "greater flexibility" over the use of the devices.
"We will engage them and see what arrangements can be worked out," he said. "For a start, MOE is working towards giving parents the option to manage their child’s personal learning device after school hours, during weekends and school holidays, should parents prefer a different control setting from that applied during the school hours."