Days before the launch of a facial recognition attendance system on Teachers’ Day, the Gujarat State Teachers’ Association passed a resolution forbidding teachers from downloading the Microsoft-based Kaizala application on their mobile phones, which would bring them under the system.
Teachers’ association president Digvijaysinh Jadeja and secretary Satishbhai Patel passed the order after a six-hour meeting in Gandhinagar on Sunday. Addressed to all presidents and secretaries of affiliated district primary teachers’ associations, the order states, “All teachers and principals are ordered not to download and install the Kaizala app on their mobile phones.”
Govt says foolproof, teachers raise privacy concern
The Gujarat government says the facial-recognition attendance system it proposes to launch on Teachers’ Day addresses problems raised about an existing online attendance system where block-level and cluster resource coordinators verify teachers’ attendance. Teachers have said there were instances where they were wrongly marked absent or half-day leave was recorded as full-day leave. On the other hand, there were also some complaints from parents that persons not recruited as teachers were acting as proxy for teachers in interior rural areas. The government says the new attendance system, which combines facial recognition with geo-fencing, is foolproof and leaves no room for manipulation by education department officials and prevents proxy attendance. However, teachers raise concern about privacy as well as data security.
Sources in the education department said that amid strong protests, the state government is already working on a plan B. “If not Kaizala, then another system to capture biometric online attendance system will be launched on September 5,” a senior officer said.
Left with only two days for the September 5 launch by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, the state government is under pressure to fulfill its commitment. The air of uncertainty over this is expected to be cleared by Tuesday.
The teachers’ association expressed resentment about the state government’s distrust of government teachers in their order. “The education department has directed all teachers to download the app and send their location-based attendance by taking a selfie. Thus, taking online attendance through Kaizala is like not trusting its own teachers,” the order reads. It said that presidents of all district teachers’ associations expressed dissatisfaction during the Sunday meeting and said that teachers were agitated and protested against the system. “Deciding unanimously all teachers have decided not to download the Kaizala app on their personal mobile phones,” the order reads.
To implement the new attendance system, teachers were asked to install the Kaizala app and mark attendance everyday after reaching their school by clicking a selfie. Enabled with geo-fencing, the app would provide the exact location at which the selfie was clicked. The existing online attendance system, under which block resource coordinators and cluster resource coordinators verify the attendance of teachers on geo-fenced tablets could be manipulated, the state government says, in its effort to promote the new foolproof system.
However, the teachers’ association has expressed concerns about downloading an app on personal mobile phones as they are concerned that their data would be misused. Gujarat State Primary Teachers’ Association president Jadeja said, “Due to security concerns expressed especially by female teachers who constitute over 65 per cent of the workforce, we have decided no teacher will download Kaizala app on their personal mobile phones.”
The association says they would not have a problem if the government issued smartphones to all the teachers, and the app was to be downloaded on these officials phones. “In that case, the course of action will be decided later,” Jadeja said.
These issues were seemingly addressed at a meeting between Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and representatives of the teachers’ association on August 21, where the teachers were given the option not to take a selfie till the time they were convinced of the security of the app and only record attendance by logging into the app, which in any case would be geo-fenced. Technical experts of Kaizala from Microsoft were also present and addressed the teachers’ concerns about data security.
When contacted, Principal Secretary Education Vinod Rao seemed surprised that the issues had been raised again. “We had already asked them not to take their pictures to which they had expressed satisfaction,” Rao said. When a demonstration was given to the teachers on how the app would work, they did not raise any more issues, Rao said. “Now I get to know that they have again expressed resentment against the Kaizala’s facial recognition attendance system. They have not communicated this to us though,” he added.
Jadeja, however, was firm. “We have made our decision public. Rest they (state government) have to decide what to do next,” the teachers’ association president said.
A government primary school teacher, who spoke to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, said they were wary about ostensibly voluntary schemes of the government, which ended up being made mandatory in due course. “The same was done with the recent ‘samay daan’ project. Teachers were told it is a voluntary contribution during vacations but slowly teachers were compelled to contribute (their time) to the scheme.”
Another teacher questioned, “Why does the state government impose all these rules only on teachers and not other employees and departments?”
Protest against election body app
Government primary teachers have been asked to verify voter details after school hours, acting as Booth Level Officers from September 1 to September 30, using an Election Commission mobile application. Teachers had opposed this move too. While some cite difficulty in using the app, others claim September is already a hectic month in terms of school curriculum. After deliberations, the teachers’ association, after Sunday’s meeting, passed an order forbidding teachers from downloading the election commission app too on their mobile phones.