Mon, Mar 16, 2009
The Straits Times
School attendance checks go digital

By Serene Luo

ATTENDANCE checklists marked by hand and the days of cajoling the monitor to indicate you were in class on time, when you were late, are all history at some schools.

A growing number of them are going high-tech, using thumbprint scanners, students' personalised ez-link cards or wireless handhelds to take attendance each morning.

For instance, students at Presbyterian High School (PHS) have been 'checking in' by keying in their identification numbers and scanning their fingerprints since the start of last year.

At Cedar Girls' Secondary School, students must remember to take along their personalised student transport cards, which they tap against kiosks upon entering and leaving school.

A check on Gebiz, the government's portal for civil service purchases, showed that at least four other secondary schools and junior colleges want to implement such technologies.

One major reason for the measures is to assist schools to efficiently manage discipline and latecomers.

A spokesman for Info-Tech Systems Integrators, which sells fingerprint systems, said: 'There's no way to cheat or skip school (with fingerprint scans). You can't ask a friend to scan for you.'

At St Anthony's Canossian Secondary School (SAC), as with PHS and several other schools, cellphone text messages are sent to parents if their children do not report at school, a method to 'discourage absenteeism, truancy and latecoming', its vice-principal Teo Jin Ling said. 'This way, we can engage parents early so that action can be taken.'

Said PHS principal Lim Yan Hock: 'We'll know at a glance by 8am who isn't here or is late. The parents also know the school is very 'on' about this.' After implementing the system, the number of latecomers has dropped, he said, without giving figures.

At Cedar Girls', in Geylang Bahru Lane, parents can check an online portal to see if their daughters have arrived or left the school after activities, the school's subject head for infocomm technology, Mr James Foo, said.

The digital methods also cut down time spent on administrative work.

SAC's Ms Teo said that between 30 and 60 students out of the entire school population of 1,300 may be absent in a day. Previously, teachers would have to personally call parents, which may take an hour or more.

These systems generally cost about $7,000 to $10,000, depending on the set-up, and parents may co-pay monthly for the operational costs of, say, text messages.

Students said they quickly got used to the new way of taking attendance.

Said PHS student Sanesh Sailesh, 15: 'At first, when the school introduced the system, we were really surprised and it was really cool. But now it's become a habit.'

As with all new technologies, there can be the occasional hiccup. Sanesh said he has occasionally 'just walked past the scanning machines, when I'm in a rush or talking to a teacher'.

His mother then gets a text message and he will get a 'love note' from her, checking where he is.

'I just assure her I'm really in school,' he said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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