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Campion, Rusea’s principals praise biometric system as JTA calls for ban

Published:Wednesday | September 25, 2019 | 12:00 AMLeon Jackson/Gleaner Writer
Linvern Wright, principal of Rusea’s High.
Grace Baston, principal of Campion College.

Western Bureau:

Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) President Owen Speid is calling on the Ministry of Education to immediately ban the use of biometric data systems to record the punctuality of teachers.

Citing the ruling earlier this year that struck down the National Identification and Registration Act under which the National Identification System was to be rolled out, Speid contends that the collection of fingerprints by educational institutions must cease.

“Those schools which are using the system are breaching the constitutional rights of teachers and the ministry should not sit back and allow the human rights of teachers to be breached,” Speid told The Gleaner. “The principals have instituted the system without consultation with the Ministry of Education. It cannot be right for schools to be spending from a low of $80,000 to a high of $300,000 to install such a system when there are more pressing needs within the schools.”

The JTA president has suggested that the education ministry go beyond instituting a ban and actually go to the schools and seize the devices.

Despite Speid’s stance, some headmasters have been singing the praises of the biometric devices, saying their teachers have also bought into the new system.

“My school uses the system and it was not forced on the teachers. In a meeting, questions were asked because teachers needed to be satisfied that their rights were not breached,” Campion College’s principal Grace Baston told The Gleaner in an interview. “They were satisfied with the answers they were given, and now my 85-strong staff uses it religiously. It is part of the school’s strategic goal going forward as an appropriate integration of technology.”

Added Baston: “It is an efficient method … . It gets the job done as we move into the 21st century. It makes the processes easy.”

Linvern Wright, principal at Rusea’s High School, is also defending the system, saying it has been working quite well at the Hanover-based school for the past five years.

“The system has been in use at my school for five years now. It has worked well, but the introduction of the system without proper consent is unconstitutional,” the headmaster told The Gleaner. “It addresses the inefficiencies relating to punctuality. However, efficiency is no substitution for what is legal and constitutional. Members of my staff consented in a meeting, when all matters surrounding the system were discussed.”

However, Speid remains resolute in his stance, arguing that in some of the cases where teachers supported the system, it was done out of fear of being victimised.

“They (teachers) would have consented out of fear of victimisation such as being overlooked for promotion. Principals can use their managerial training to institute a less intrusive system that does not discriminate,” the JTA president insisted.

Last week, Karl Samuda, who is overseeing the education ministry, ordered that schools should stop using the systems as his team probes the matter.

“No action must be taken in this regard without the approval of the Ministry of Education, who will initiate immediate investigations into the entire thing, including the storage of fingerprints,” Samuda said.

He also ordered that no punitive action be taken against teachers who refuse to use the system.