September 7, 2019 7:13:12 pm
A new system of marking attendance using face recognition technology kicked into place for primary school teachers in Gujarat on September 5. Teachers had been opposed to the system, citing concerns over privacy and the government’s seeming lack of trust in them.
While the government has abandoned the plan to use Microsoft’s Kaizala mobile phone application to mark attendance, it has stuck by the technology of face recognition.
What is the facial recognition attendance system for government primary school teachers?
After an online attendance system for nearly 2.5 lakh government and grant-in-aid primary school teachers was introduced in December 2018 along with geo-tagging and geo-mapping for the Block and Cluster Resource Centre (BRCs and CRCs) co-ordinators, the Gujarat education department planned to move a step further by introducing a facial recognition attendance system. The system was launched by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani on Thursday which was celebrated as Teachers’ Day.
According to officials in the state Education Department, the app is optimised with an intelligent algorithm that will record facial features of the teachers at the time of the registration, such that a minor variation will not be a hindrance in the recognition. The app has been developed in association with multiple companies as part of their CSR activities and comes free of cost to the government of Gujarat.
What is the difference between the new app and Microsoft Kaizala?
In the case of Microsoft’s Kaizala which was earlier chosen for the attendance system, once installed, the teachers would have to take a selfie at a designated time of day, usually, before 11 am, and mark their attendance by uploading it. This system is geo-fenced, so the exact location of the teacher would also be recorded.
In a communication last month, all government primary school teachers were asked to download the app and understand its working before its official launch on Teachers’ Day.
The new app, which is yet to be christened, according to principal secretary Vinod Rao, is optimised with an intelligent algorithm that will allow the authorities to study both the attendance and location of the teachers. Each school will get special tablets with the app pre-loaded, which will be in the custody of the principal. It will also be the responsibility of the principal to ensure that the attendance is marked on time, and in the required manner.
Unlike the earlier idea of having teachers upload selfies to the Kaizala app, the new app allows teachers to simply register their facial biometrics on the tablet. “It is the same technology that is used for facial unlock on smartphones by individuals. This is at a large scale, and we will also plan to take it to the student attendance system soon. It will clock pictures of teachers from various angles and create an algorithm that will enable smart face recognition that will work even if there is a minor change— for instance, missing spectacles,” a technical officer said.
With help of the geo-tagging system, the app will enable authorities to study the exact location of the teachers. Why have a new system?
The government wants to ensure a geo-fencing foolproof system for its 2.5 lakh teachers like CRCs and BRCs, leaving no scope for manipulation. The Education Department says there is a need to secure the online attendance system.
This is also seen as an attempt to contain the upper hand of CRCs and BRCs, against whom the department has received complaints of wrongly marking teachers ‘absent’ in the online attendance system even when they were present. Several discrepancies have been detected in the existing online attendance system.
Also, parents have complained of “proxy teachers”, especially in the interior rural areas— some teachers have apparently been sending unqualified persons to teach in their place. The geo-fenced biometric attendance system is intended to stop such corruption.
Why were teachers upset?
Terming the move as a reflection of “lack of trust in teachers”, and citing privacy concerns and the absence of financial or infrastructural support from the state government, the Gujarat State Primary Teachers’ Association had been protesting ever since the idea was floated.
The Association, which claims to have a membership of nearly 2 lakh, had said that the 1.25 lakh-odd women teachers, in particular, feared that their selfies — taken on the Kaizala app— could be misused.
Also, teachers had argued that not all of them used smartphones— and demanded that the state government should provide at least one smartphone to each school with internet connectivity. This issue has now been resolved with the distribution of the tablets.
Although the government finds Kaizala to be a “robust, tried and tested app”, the Association, days before the launch, had passed a directive on September 1, forbidding all its teacher and principal members from dowloading and installing Kaizala.
How did the Gujarat government react?
After talks with teachers failed, principal secretary, Education, Vinod Rao, through a series of video and audio messages for the teachers, personally appealed to them to accept the new system. Rao tried to explain the security of the system, saying the captured data would be encrypted and stored securely in the state government’s Science and Technology Department’s GIPL server.
This was followed by a four-hour-long meeting chaired by the Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama and senior officials of the Education Department, representatives of the teachers’ Association, and technical experts from Microsoft but all of these failed to convince the teachers.
The government, however, was ready with a Plan B. And there were already hints that it would be a biometrics-based system. On the day of launch, Chief Minister Rupani sent out a strong message by taking the protesting teachers head-on, and emphasising that he planned to introduce this attendance system in all government departments. Apprehensions, however, remained— as was evident in the open house conducted by Rupani with the awardee teachers that very day, when some voiced concerns about the engagement with technology.
Currently a pilot project, the government plans to launch the android-based app on Google play store once it is operational in government schools. “Right now we are ensuring that it is a tamper-proof system, so it will only be available on the tablets that are provided to the schools,” said a government official.
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