Safeguarding, security and risks
Implementing any technology related policy involves careful consideration of risks, which in schools includes safeguarding of children.
For BYOD implementation planning there are some important questions to be addressed:
Damage, loss or theft of student devices
A key decision that needs to be made when developing a BYOD strategy is the level of responsibility the school will have for students' devices that may be damaged, lost or stolen. Therefore, decisions need to be made regarding who is responsible for, and how to arrange: device insurance, device tracking, remote wiping of lost or stolen devices, replacement of lost, stolen or damaged devices. There are varying levels of cost associated with these arrangements.
Protecting data and system security
Providing access to school services from student owned devices increases the risk of compromising system security. Also, when students are using their devices at school with school provided and managed software, their personal data needs to be protected. For example, if the school remotely updates software on the students' device, personal data must not be lost. Managing secure access to school data and protecting students' personal data means an increased workload and responsibilities for school ICT support staff. IT departments supporting corporate BYOD, for example, are increasingly interested in the concept of, and tools that enable, "containerisation", i.e. separating corporate data from employee data on employees' BYOD devices. Such tools are currently relatively expensive and generally schools are not considering these. However, they were mentioned by one of the interviewees for this guide as possibly something to consider in future.
Safeguarding students and staff
Strategies and school policies for ensuring safe internet use and dealing with bullying, cyber-bullying and cheating need to be reviewed and updated to avoid new or different risks enabled by devices being both mobile and owned by the student. For example, inside school a student using the internet will be protected by the school firewall and filtering software but they may also be connecting to the internet via completely unmanaged and unprotected Wi-Fi in a local café. For older students it may be sufficient to argue that the school is not responsible for the use by students of their own devices outside of school. However, for younger students, and in situations where the school has actively encouraged acquisition of the device, responsibility may be less clear.
JISC, a charity that champions the use of digital technologies in UK education and evolved from the government funded Joint Information Systems Committee, previously funded ‘JISC Legal', a legal advice service for educational institutions. JISC Legal (2013) produced an online BYOD toolkit which includes sections on "Your Staff, Mobile Devices, Law and Liability", "Your Students, Mobile Devices, Law and Liability", and "Risk, Liability and Mobile Devices". The advice included in the toolkit covers legal liabilities in the areas of copyright and learning resources, inappropriate material, e-safety, equality duties and freedom of information and ranks the risks involved by the likelihood they will occur and the severity of the consequences. This resource relates specifically to UK law but similar laws are likely to exist in other European countries. A template is also provided "to help (education) providers write an effective policy that states what their institution's approach is to the use of personally owned devices by staff and learners".
Addressing concerns on health risks
Some parents, as well as some teachers and teachers' unions, have expressed concerns about possible health risks associated with the use of both mobile phones and Wi-Fi. People who express such concerns generally fear that there could be human health effects from using mobile phones and being exposed to Wi-Fi, both of which use low level, non-ionising, electromagnetic fields.
The governments of most developed countries have funded research in this area. For example:
- The Health Council of the Netherlands published a report Influence of radiofrequency telecommunication signals on children's brains in October 2011 that concluded: "There is no scientific evidence for a negative influence of exposure to electromagnetic fields of mobile telephones, base station antennas or Wi-Fi equipment on the development and functioning of the brain and on health in children."
- Health Effects from Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields: Report of the Independent Advisory Group of Non-ionising Radiation, published by the UK Health Protection Agency in April 2012, concluded "In summary, although a substantial amount of research has been conducted in this area, there is no convincing evidence that RF field exposure below guideline levels causes health effects in adults or children."
- The French National Health Security Agency for Food, Environment and Labour (ANSES) published in 2013 an update on their 2009 report Radiofrequency and Health. This update, in order to take into account current and future deployment of new mobile communication technologies (e.g. 4G) and uncertainties concerning the long-term effects of exposure to radiofrequencies, recommended a precautionary measure of "encouraging only moderate use of mobile phones" by children "ideally with hands-free kits" but did not make any recommendations regarding Wi-Fi. However, French law includes a precautionary requirement for Wi-Fi equipment to be deactivated in primary school classes when it is not being use for educational activities.
The current guidance of the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that, "Over the course of the past decade, numerous electromagnetic field sources have become the focus of health concerns, including power lines, microwave ovens, computer and TV screens, security devices, radars and most recently mobile phones and their base stations". However, under the heading ‘Conclusions from Scientific Research' they say, "In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. Despite the feeling of some people that more research needs to be done, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals. Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. However, some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research".