News / edTech policy pupil privacy

Call for action on children’s rights in COVID-19 rapid adoption of online learning tools

London, UK— Today more than thirty human rights and civil liberties organisations, parent, teacher and consumer groups worldwide, called for action to respect children’s rights in the digital environment in education, during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a joint statement, the advocacy groups propose actions to make sure that the global rush to deliver emergency instruction online does not undermine children’s rights, with lasting effects, long after lockdowns are over.

The groups ask data protection authorities to co-operate globally to publish guidelines, monitor practice, and enforce compliance of e-learning platforms, children’s apps and other edTech solutions.

They urge policymakers to consider the impacts of the use of digital tools; to conduct and publish children’s rights’—, equality—, and data protection impact assessments; and to ensure that staff, children, and families are given training with regard to privacy and security, and ask policymakers to commit to review practices with civil society including the most affected and marginalised communities, once the emergency situation has ended.

The advocacy groups ask providers to adhere to best practice consistent with the rule of law, and with suitable safeguards for students’ security and privacy by-default-and-design, including accessible and inclusive curriculum needs. They further call on all parties to be fully transparent about processing personal data, automated decision making, and the sources and assumptions made in any training data, used in tools that employ artificial intelligence.

And the coalition calls on decision makers and educators to take responsibility for any products that they procure or recommend, to require companies to demonstrate that they uphold children’s rights as recognised by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Jen Persson, Director, defenddigitalme.
Making rights’ respecting choices now, and for our children’s future, depends on cooperation across the whole sector; and understanding for the local and international frameworks of law. This unplanned crisis is pushing schools in particular to free products, whose business models often rely on opaque ways of exploiting something else for profit: pupil or staff personal data, or advertising in-app products to children or parents. Privacy is not only a right we must protect, it is a practical necessity in the development and adoption of responsible online technology, for the good of society, and for keeping children safe.”

Josh Golin, Executive Director, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. “It’s inspiring how families and educators have stepped up to keep kids learning in this most difficult time. But we cannot trample children’s other critical rights in the rush to provide remote learning. Tech companies should not be allowed to use this crisis to mine even more of children’s sensitive data or to expose students to marketing messages masquerading as lessons.”

Link to text of the letter in full, with signatories.
[Download the letter as .pdf].
Or you can listen to an audio file here too.

summary of asks to recognise the rights of the child

Our broader COVID-19 response at defenddigitalme

Our first reaction was to address hand hygiene and the use of biometric fingerprint readers in schools, and ask If schools close, what happens to children on Free School Meals.

Our further response will shortly include a guide to responsible online learning, and we are happy to answer questions for support at any time.