A rising trend of parents using child-tracking apps to monitor their children as they travel home from school is leading to complaints that the devices are also being used to disrupt class.

Schools have reported children calling home during school hours and some have even used the devices to film in school.

Nicky Azzopardi, head of early years at San Anton School, has noticed an increase in the use of trackers. While some are simply devices with an emergency-call function, others are smart phones or watches allowed into school solely as after-school trackers. 

“When children call home halfway through the day, they create a situation where parents worry unnecessarily,” Azzopardi said, adding that, ideally, if parents want to use a tracker they should opt for a simple one as opposed to those that allow calls.

Being dependent on a device at such a young age or else being looped to parents and guardians through the device all day is unthinkable- Graham Sansone, Union of Professional Educators

Graham Sansone, from the Union of Professional Educators, and Marco Bonnici, from the Malta Union of Teachers, have seen an increase in teachers reporting the abuse of tracking devices, especially when they are smartphones.

Sansone said since these devices have recording functions there were instances of children filming in class. “The system is allowing for this abuse to happen,” he said.

Bonnici said members have been bringing the matter to the attention of their employers for some time as they are feeling pressured.

“Being dependent on a device at such a young age or else being looped to parents and guardians through the device all day is unthinkable,” he said.

“The school is acting in loco parentis by taking care of students during the day, so the level of trust in the school needs to be upheld as well, without the need of tracking systems.”

What are the devices used for?

But parents say the issue is not about mistrusting teaching staff during school hours but about keeping tabs on their children once they leave the classroom behind for the day. 

Parents who have chosen to send their children home in school vans, which have been free since 2018, say the devices help them track their children on their way home.

A child-tracking device that parents were promised when the government launched the free school transport has not materialized, resulting in parents searching for their own solutions.

GO launched its smartwatch tracker in November 2018 to fill a void in the market. The tracker has a built-in emergency button and now also includes a video calling feature. It connects to an app that allows parents to monitor the location of their child.

A spokesperson said demand has been increasing since the launch.  

Another company, Weenect Trackers Malta, said demand has spiked for their trackers this year. There was a demand for them in 2018 and 2019, which slowed down during COVID when they were not needed, “but nothing like we’re seeing this year”, with over 200 sold so far this scholastic year.

A spokesperson said people are opting for their GPS tracker, which also has an SOS button to allow children to call home in an emergency, as some schools ban smartwatches.  “We have many stating they wish to use the tracker for convenience purposes, to know when their child is close by on the school van, for example, using it to time their arrival at home. Others use it for safety,” she said.

Such concerns were further triggered when, last year, a three-year-old girl was left behind on a school bus in a garage for three hours after finishing her second day at a primary school in Pietà.

But worry is not the only reason parents are opting for trackers. Working parents can stop working to wait for the van only when they know it’s around the corner.

Sharon started using a tracker ever since her daughter, now seven, started coming home by van last year.

“It’s for peace of mind. It has an emergency button, so my daughter can get in touch if necessary. I also thought it would make life easier for my parents as they would not have to wait out for too long for the van,” she said, adding that it was great in cases when there was traffic as it alleviated unnecessary worry.

Like her, Veronica uses trackers. “I use it for many reasons: the safety of the kids and I know when they’re leaving school, so I leave work to be there and to open the door for my kids to come home.”

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