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The pros and cons of biometrics in schools

Vincent Paget

November 27, 2018

Here at Boardingware, we're big fans of using technology to solve a boarding school's problems. But one of the more controversial uses of technology in recent times is the collection and use of biometric data in schools.As with most hotly debated topics, there are pros and cons. On the positive side, there are potential security and efficiency gains - as the technology becomes cheaper, it could make knowing who is on campus at any given moment more straightforward than ever. On the other hand, there are genuine concerns about overreach and privacy - is the risk of students' biometric data being stolen worth the extra security that's potentially gained?Before we get into the positives and negatives, however, it's important we first understand exactly what biometrics are, and how or if they're currently used in some schools.

What are biometrics?

Biometrics are any physical characteristics of a person that can be used to distinguish them from another person. Most commonly, they are either a fingerprint, an iris or a face, but in principle a biometric can be any part of a person's body that uniquely identifies them.

Fingerprint recognition is currently the most common and cheap form of biometric identification.
Fingerprint recognition is currently the cheapest and most common form of biometric identification.

The second part of biometrics is in their reading or collection. There are many things about people that may be unique, but they are useless as identifiers unless there is some reliable way of measuring them. Currently, the most ubiquitous method is fingerprint scanning - it's now reasonably cheap and accurate to use fingerprint scans to unlock phones or security cabinets, for example. Recent mobile phones from Apple have introduced face identification too, so we may see this technology becoming more prevalent moving forward.

Are biometrics already being used in schools?

There is little point debating the pros and cons of a technology's use if it's unlikely to occur. Biometric identification, however, has been introduced in many schools around the globe, most prominently in the United Kingdom and the United States. In the UK, for example, while the exact numbers of schools that use biometric technology is not recorded, there have been estimates by privacy advocacy groups, namely Big Brother Watch, that said 25 per cent of schools were using the technology in 2012. They expected that number to grow further in the years to come.

What are the pros of using biometrics?

There are a number of benefits of using biometric identification in boarding schools.Increased securityRequiring biometric identification for those on campus can make a school more secure. When everyone coming in and out of the school can be closely tracked, it can make the school grounds a much safer place. Traditional forms of ID, such as cards, can be stolen and used by somebody else, but most biometric identification methods are much more immune to such problems. Or consider taking attendance rolls - with the requirement of a fingerprint, no student can call out another's name, meaning it can be easier to trust that everyone is safe and where they should be.Greater efficiencyWith today's technology, it's very quick to read a fingerprint and authenticate a student or teacher - quicker, arguably, than any other method.For example, one common use for fingerprint scanners is in cafeterias where certain students may be entitled to a free lunch or perhaps have special dietary requirements. If everyone scans their fingerprint when they join the queue, staff can easily determine which student needs what meal with minimal hassle.

What are the cons of using biometrics?

While there may be some benefits to using biometrics, there are also some potential downsides, most of which come down to privacy concerns.Risk of data theftBiometric information about students and faculty is deeply personal and can be very valuable. Outside of the school environment, it can be used to verify financial transactions - with payments made via mobile phone only requiring fingerprint authorisation in some circumstances. While a PIN number can't be stolen from someone's mind, if a fingerprint or iris scan falls into the wrong hands, it could be used to unlawfully authorise transactions.The debate over whether using biometrics in schools is appropriate will continue as the technology to read them becomes cheaper and more reliable.To learn more about Boardingware's technology solution for boarding schools, watch a demo video of the software or contact us to book a time to run you through the software.

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Vincent Paget

I'm a kiwi living in London and who has been part of Orah since 2015. Working in operations, my passion lies in finding efficiencies and scalabilities in all areas of the business. Beyond the office, I'm all about outdoor adventures like football and fishing, along with music, travel, and quality time with friends and family, especially my dog.

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