No school roll-call, kids check in with thumbs

West Spring Primary School pupil Hani Arianna Mohd Hafiz scanning her thumbprint while fellow Primary 1 schoolmates Saharnaa Mahendran and Albert Xiong wait in line.
West Spring Primary School pupil Hani Arianna Mohd Hafiz scanning her thumbprint while fellow Primary 1 schoolmates Saharnaa Mahendran and Albert Xiong wait in line.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Schools are going high-tech to keep track of attendance and to alert parents if their children are late or absent.

About 50 schools are using smartphone apps or online portals to mark attendance. Another 45 schools use either a biometric or card system to keep a daily log of absentees and latecomers.

More schools are taking the initiative to install such systems in place of roll-calls to ease the workload of teachers and to better monitor truancy and latecomers, the Ministry of Education told The Straits Times.

In 2010, only about 20 schools had in place the biometric electronic systems that log attendance, the paper reported then.

The biometric system is made up of fingerprint readers, and students and teachers get their fingerprints scanned upon entering or leaving the school compound. Some schools use card readers in place of fingerprint scanners.

Other schools, such as Coral Secondary and Yishun Town Secondary, have teachers keying in attendance data in their smart devices during morning assembly.

Within minutes from the time students are supposed to be checked in, these systems identify absentees and latecomers and send a text message or app notification to keep parents informed.

In the past, teachers used to manually call or send text messages to the parents individually in the morning.

Mrs Jacinta Lim, principal of West Spring Primary School which had a biometric system installed earlier this year, said it has cut the time taken to log pupil attendance by up to 90 per cent.

"Teachers use the time saved to interact more with the students or to start the day's lessons."

With parents kept informed about their children's whereabouts, Coral Secondary principal Arivazhagan Manickam said the number of students with three or more counts of tardiness has dropped by 20 per cent.

As such systems can generate attendance figures and sort them by class, day and duration of attendance, schools have been using them to identify larger trends and intervene early to rectify them.

For example, Mr Arivazhagan had noticed a marked increase in the number of students arriving late on certain days. "We probed deeper and found that it was because students could not get on a certain bus service which was often packed." He hopes to contact the Land Transport Authority soon to see if the frequency of that bus service can be increased.

Some schools also use biometric systems to mark staff attendance and control access to designated locations. For instance, the biometric system in West Spring Primary opens and shuts special rooms to keep out outsiders and unsupervised pupils.

In Yishun Town Secondary, the automatic messaging function that comes with the smartphone app can send mass messages to a chosen group of people.

"If the school needs to inform parents whose children are on overseas trips that the plane has landed safely, or if teachers wish to let them know about class activities, it is very useful," said its principal Tan Chuen-Yin.

She said most parents have downloaded the app, but for the rare few who do not have smartphones, teachers will send them SMSes the old-fashioned way.

"It is an easy and fast way of alerting us and it gives us a sense of assurance that we will know if anything is amiss," said housewife Jenny Mak, 51, who has a son in Coral Secondary.

Albert Xiong, six, a pupil from West Spring Primary, said such systems help motivate the pupils to go to school earlier. "The fingerprint scanning just takes a few seconds so it will be very clear you are late because it is all recorded."