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OTTAWA, Ontario, July 10, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented disruptor to in-person education throughout the world and Canada was no exception. With little to no notice at all, teachers across the country found themselves teaching their students through computer screens and apps instead of in their classrooms. Switching to virtual learning created many challenges, such as securing sufficient devices and high-speed internet access for teachers and students, but the damaging legacy of the sudden change continues.
Emergency remote virtual learning became part of the daily routine of secondary, elementary, and even kindergarten students. But even as the severity of the pandemic waned, and students returned to in-person learning, repercussions of rash solutions introduced in 2020 remain. Those digital solutions, although practical to making virtual teaching and learning possible when being in school was not, have led to massive data trails left by students. Like easily found breadcrumbs, these trails have been gobbled up by edu-businesses looking to profit off the backs of students. From student assessment data to personal details, companies have obtained troves of information to monetize children and publicly funded public education.
Although technology companies have been working their way into classrooms for some time now, the pandemic fast-tracked student data collection. Governments enthusiastically invited big tech into the classroom, and the technological advances that made it possible for students and teachers to stay somewhat connected while school buildings were closed came at the cost of privacy and the very principles of publicly funded public education.
When schools pivoted to emergency remote-learning, tech companies had the opportunity to analyse data streams produced by students the same way they analyse the rest of the Internet – for marketing purposes. Suddenly, students became vulnerable like never before.
The mere existence of data is not the concern, but the way it is handled and sold is. Student assessment data only belongs in the hands of qualified teachers and public institutions that use it to assess student learning needs and allocate resources accordingly. When student data is used to market private tutoring services, sell learning apps, or become an indicator of neighbourhood profitability for the real estate industry, privatization and monetization threaten both equity and the very core of quality public education.
In response to the increasing and unchecked monetization of student data, the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE) strongly condemns any use of student assessment data for corporate profit. We call on the provincial and territorial governments to act by taking steps to protect privacy and prevent the misuse of student data. The CTF/FCE also calls upon the federal government to pass Bill C-27 to comprehensively protect consumer privacy and data of all Canadians.
While the CTF/FCE fully supports the use of appropriate technology in the professionally trained hands of teachers to help educate Canada’s youth, a line must be drawn when technology becomes a gateway to profiteering from students and our publicly funded public education systems. We must act now to expel edu-businesses from our schools to once again make classrooms safe places to teach and learn, putting students and public education before profit.
About the CTF/FCE
Founded in 1920, the CTF/FCE is a national alliance of provincial and territorial teachers’ organizations that represent over 365,000 teachers and education workers across Canada. The CTF/FCE is also an affiliate of Education International, which represents more than 32-million educators.
Nika Quintao, Director of Public Affairs
Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE)