AIM: start

SAT, 05 JAN 2002 23:15:29 GMT

Innovations in Slovenia

Grades by Cell Phone

"The first DOS session held in the Parliament building brought together 93 delegates... Their debate mostly focused on the DOS statute... Dimitrije Djokic was re-elected DOS president, and the delegates paid the most attention to the introduction of an electronic grade register."

AIM Ljubljana, December 23, 2001

The event described above did not take place in Serbia. It was covered by the Ljubljana-based Delo newspaper at the beginning of this school year. DOS stands for Dijaska Organzacija Slovenije, or Student Association of Slovenia, and the announced electronic grade register -- which the "student parliament" debated -- despite fierce arguments is slowly becoming a reality.

At the beginning of the next school year this novelty will be available to some elementary and secondary school students and their parents. The latter, for a fee of 950 tolars (about DM9, or EUR4.5) and Internet access will as of next January be able to check their children's grades, entered into the electronic or e-grade register. The project was masterminded by the Education Ministry in cooperation with the BB8 company, from Izola, and the PG Group from Ljubljana. The "e-grade register" should make it possible for parents to keep track of their children's progress and other details pertaining to their performance without having to come to parents' meetings or conferences with their teachers. All that will be necessary is access to the Internet and several clicks of a mouse. This novelty does not end there. In addition to learning about their children's grades and the number of classes they missed, once the program is fully developed parents will also be able to check grades by cell phone messages, or SMS.

That in this sector there is great competition in Slovenia is confirmed by an example from the Center for Certificates and System Development (CERIS), which had prepared a similar project adding a "voice portal" to it for those who do not know how to use the Internet. This system would enable the user to get information on his child's progress in school via a special code, authorized telephone number and voice analysis done by a Musi ERD portal. After a thorough check it will provide the user with a breakdown of his child's or children's grades, the number of missed classes, any messages from their teachers...

The issue of protection of privacy and personal data was immediately brought up. This is why strict checks aimed at protecting the secrecy of all data have been introduced. In every school that accepts one of the two systems, all grades will be entered into a special computer program, and this will require that teachers be additionally trained. The data will be stored on school computers which will be protected by codes, and parents will have they personal passwords. The goal of the project is to enable parents whose children are not doing well or are skipping classes to be continually informed of what their children are doing, and the same will extend to all other parents. Sceptics say expectations are too optimistic, but the authors of the program believe that the situation would improve. Parents will be informed in advance of their child's position in school before meeting with their teachers, and parents mostly approve of this novelty. They say that their children are already a great deal ahead of them as far as computer technology is concerned. But the fact is that, according to a survey, 80 percent of parents know how to use the Internet, and that 80-85 percent approve of this latest novelty.

This, for many an interesting new approach, however, has opened a number of questions that have yet to be answered. The Education Ministry, for instance, says that the most important thing is to protect students' personal data. As far as students are concerned, although very skilled in using high-tech gadgets, they are not too enthusiastic about this idea. Initially, many students approved of the project, but at its latest session the "student parliament" did not extend support to the project. Some students say that in addition to recent grades, others should also be accessible.

"Three is a good grade when two's and one's prevail in a class," says Marjeta Vouk, chairwoman for the Welfare and Education Committee of the Slovenian Parliament. Psychologists warn that electronic access to school grade registers could worsen relations in families and that the planned novelty will not increase the interest of those parents who did not care much about their children's performance in the first place. Most critics stress the fact that parents will be in a position to see grades even before their children. This was resolved after officials decided that the new grades should be entered after 48 hours, but certain problems still remain. Legal experts, for instance, warn that students older than 18 have the right not to let their parents see their marks. In addition, students are against using SMS to reveal grades lower than three. In short, most of them are against the project as a whole. "This brings us a step closer to Orwell," say one member of the "student parliament" who read Animal Farm.

The "DOS Parliament," according to Dimitrije Djokic, is "the highest representative and legislative body of the student organization," but it is still not clear how will this affect the final decision. It is certain that the outcome of this struggle and its consequences will prove useful for all students in the former Yugoslavia. As of recently DOS took upon itself to organize similar student organizations throughout the former country, and the Ministry of Education decided to form a commission to look into all aspects of the project. Formally, there are no obstacles to accepting the system, but only several schools had accepted it so far. Among them is the Agricultural School in Ljubljana, where applications from parents will be accepted starting next year. That is, of course, if DOS does not devise a way to stop the project.

Svetlana Vasovic