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'We know more about the cows in the field than the children in our schools'

Parents are voicing their concerns over the Primary Online Education being rolled out in schools across the country.

Image: children via Shutterstock

A PARENTS ASSOCIATION for primary school children hopes that fears over a controversial database of information on pupils doesn’t overshadow ‘the important service’ it will provide.

The Department of Education has started rolling out the Primary Online Database (POD), but has faced criticism over data protection and data retention issues.

POD will track a range of details on individual children, and store the information until the children turn 30.

The National Parents Council – Primary has been fielding a range of concerns from parents on the scheme.

Chief executive Áine Lynch told TheJournal.ie that the main concerns facing parents are the long period of data retention, and as well as the sensitive ethnic information that will be stored.

The Irish Times reported this week that ‘White Irish’ was one option in this category. The Department said this would be reviewed.

“We’re in ongoing discussions with the Department,” Lynch said, “There has been nothing that they haven’t engaged with us on”.

“No one is turning around saying ‘It is what it is’. They’re very much looking at parents’ concerns.”

One concerned parent, solicitor Simon McGarr, has started a petition calling on the Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan to scrap POD completely.

The main concern he has outlined is security, claiming that ‘the Department cannot guarantee who will be able to access it’.

He has also noted that funding may be withheld for children whose parents refuse to have their data entered in the scheme.

However, parental permission is not required for some data.

McGarr has also noted some recent parliamentary questions as cause for concern.

“The data is transmitted securely from POD to the local systems using HTTPS,” Minister O’Sullivan said in response to a question from independent TD Stephen Donnelly,

It is the responsibility of Primary Schools as Data Controllers to ensure that data held on their local systems is held securely.

Lynch said that although POD is currently bogged down with concerns – and it is vital that they are addressed – the online database “for us, is a good news story, and still is.”

“We’ve been calling for it for years. It’s important that glitches and difficulties don’t take over”.

It has always been said that we know more about the cows in the field than the children in our school.

“Once this important information is gathered, it means that supports can be put in place for children as soon as issues arise. It will also be useful for early identification of where children are slipping out of the system”.

Read: Minister to reconsider keeping data on school children until they’re 30 >

More: Department’s plan to collect data on every child a ‘worrying overreach of the State’ >

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Nicky Ryan

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