BEN: You’re listening to Ben Ford, I’m on 2GB. Thank you for doing that. The number is one three one eight seven three. If you want to give me a call, do so any time. Would you let a school use GPS trackers on your children? Well, there is a school in Alice Springs that is taking the extraordinary step of using GPS technology to stop students from skipping school. Where are they? well the GPS will tell you. If a student doesn’t turn up to class, not only will their parents be notified by a text message, but they will also be told exactly where their child is, all thanks to a GPS device in the student’s mobile phone. Yes, kids, your worst nightmares are all coming true, and there was the odd day when I was a school student when I didn’t manage to turn up to class, I didn’t manage to turn up to school. Where was I? Well, my mum and dad didn’t know. Now they would. What do we think about this? This is at the Centralian Middle School in Alice Springs, and Andrew Leslie, is the principal. He joins me on the line. Andrew, good afternoon.
ANDREW: Good afternoon Ben.
BEN: What about this? kids everywhere will be terrified.
ANDREW: Oh look I don’t think there is any need to be terrified, it’s a safety device that we provide to families to assist them for a range of issues.
BEN: Where did it come from? Where did the idea develop from?
ANDREW: Look the idea is from a company in South Australia, so we incorporate their technology into our role marking facility. It’s an opt in system, so families choose to be part of the system. They choose to install the app on their child’s phone and so that’s one way that we get around a range of privacy concerns. If a child is late or if a child isn’t at school, the family gets a text message sent to them. They can then click on that link and it essentially pinpoints where the child is on a map.
BEN: Ok, so it’s telling you where the child’s mobile phone is, that would be the only way around it right, separate the child from the mobile phone but the mobile phone is not going to turn up to school on its own.
ANDREW: No and look I think mobile phones are pretty much glued to young people.
BEN: That’s true.
ANDREW: So it is going to be pretty accurate.
BEN: So you offered this program at school. How many families signed up?
ANDREW: Around about 60 Ben.
BEN: And how have you found it running so far?
ANDREW: Look we’ve had great feedback from all families and all young people that have been involved in it. We’ve had a few real success stories. We’ve had children who have been coming home from our homework centre, have done what children do, they’ve gone via the shop or gone past their friends home, their parents have been worried where they are and their parents have actually been able to say look my child’s on their way home I can see exactly where they are, so it’s actually more than just a truancy device.
BEN: Yeah, that’s a really good point because it is not just about saying to kids well we want to make sure you’re not lying to us and going behind our back and skipping school when you should be in class, it’s just a general safety thing of knowing where they are at any one time. How accurate is the technology?
ANDREW: Look, we believe it is fairly accurate. I don’t have any statistics on that, however I suppose it works on the same principle as find my iphones, so we believe it’s fairly accurate to within a few metres of where the phone might be.
BEN: Alright, let’s give it the real test. Truancy rates. What have truancy rates done at the school?
ANDREW: Look, our attendance is around about ninety percent on average now so it’s probably increased by twenty to thirty percent however it’s part of a plan. I don’t attribute the increased rate of attendance to this app. I attribute it to a range of programs.
BEN: OK, truancy rates have fallen from sixty children a week to just five, since this technology was first implemented a year ago. I know you’re saying it’s not all to do with that but surely it can take some of the credit?
ANDREW: Oh look I think no doubtedly you know it is part of the reason but once again we work with families, we work with children, we have a range of services that help families get children to school.
BEN: Do you think this is something that we’re going to be seeing more of around Australia?
ANDREW: Look I think it’s the future and what’s also coming out of this app we’re about to launch another part of it which is a bullying app. So if you’re being bullied you can report online wherever you are and that comes directly to the school so we’re beginning to roll out certain aspects of the app.
BEN: Alright, well congratulations. It takes someone to test these things before we really know how far they can go and by the sounds of it I have got a feeling that we’re going to be hearing a lot more about it. Andrew thank you so much for talking to us.
ANDREW: Thanks very much.
BEN: Andrew Leslie who is the principal of the Centralian Middle School in Alice Springs. What about that? And he’s so right. Now all the kids are glued to their mobile phones, and that’s not just kids, we all are. Well as long as you’ve got your mobile with you, we know where you are. And no, it’s not just about knowing that you’re not skipping school, it’s also just about knowing you are safe. I can hear myself already selling the idea to my kids, or just explaining to them this is the way it’s going to work. If you’re going to have the mobile phone, I’m going to have this little app that lets me know where you are, and if you don’t turn up to school I’m going to know, and if you’re not at school guess what? I’m going to know where you are, and I’m going to turn up and surprise you, and embarrass you in front of all your friends while you’re skipping school. I love it. One three one eight seven three. Ben at 2GB dot com.