Cameras; Kindergartens; Confidentiality

Tuesday, July 10, 2012, 09:45 by

Jekk ma tiġix miegħi fil-klassi issa stess, il-mama ma tiġix għalik, imbagħad. (Unless you return to class with me right now, your mum won’t come to pick you up later.)

This admonishment was made to a four-year old boy by a helper at a (local) playschool, when he did not want to return to class after the regulation pre-snack mid-morning visit to the toilets.

This comes hot on the heels of the other news item about the (British) Assistant Head of School being suspended from the teachers’ register for six months, having been accused of humiliating a five-year-old by standing her on a table and chastising her, and a slew of Florida teachers mocking a child for being “the missing link” on a social site.

Alas, some of us assume that children who are not ours are obliged to go along with whatever means of discipline we choose to use, if they are a part of the larger group that requires “discipline” in order for things to run smoothly.

This is something that not all parents like; in fact, especially following some horror stories about babies and toddlers being abused while left in play-centres, there has been a move toward campaigning for CCTV cameras to be placed in all Early Education Centres such that responsible adults would be able to log on and watch their child at play.

This, of course, raises instant red flags; who is to say whether the parent is “really” watching out for evidence of bullying or other untoward behaviour, by his child and / or his peers, or else simply gauging to see whether the money he is paying for the service is being well-spent?

Is this “keeping tabs on your children” simply a high-tech excuse for spying? Is there any risk that the Data protection Act will be broken, should tapes of the activities be recorded, and shown to third parties?

Of course, it’s not just anyone who would be able to log in to the CCT cameras that would have been installed; a unique password and security code are necessary.

I decided to tackle this question from both sides; and whereas the parents with young children all gave their points of view, I am amazed at how many of the Centres I contacted declined to reply.  The questions I put were fairly straightforward:

1.       Would you consider having CCTV cameras in playrooms feasible, such that parents may occasionally watch what is happening from home?

2.       Would this encourage a Big Brother mentality?

3.       Would the installation of cameras give Early Education Centres that have them an unfair advantage over those that don’t, since the implication would be that the latter have something to hide?

Some parents have an unending stream of doting relatives, friends, and neighbours falling over one another to baby-sit.  Others do not – and these centres therefore become a godsend. We cannot judge whether it is “necessary” for the children to spend “that much time” there; it is not our business that “the mother is at home anyway” (so she must be selfish, not wanting to cater for the children herself?).

Some parents tell me that they remove children from certain play centres because of different reasons.  Would these ‘problems’ have been pinpointed earlier has there been cameras in the room, which parents could access even via a smart phone? Perhaps – and perhaps not.

Because it is definitely not enough to park your child at the cheapest or nearest play-centre; you must always be on the alert about what could possibly happening – and this is not done by staccato Twenty Questions sessions each time the child returns home from the centre.

Parents came up with any number of excuses to justify their wanting cameras inside the playschool.  They miss their children.  They feel guilty that they are leaving them at the Centre because they have to, so the next best thing is watching them on camera… and of course it also indicates whether the toddlers are “learning” or “wasting time”…

Others insist their babies are delicate and may not get as much attention as they need from the Assistants.  The helpers don’t have eyes at the back of their heads – there must ‘be someone’ to help them, even from a distance.  Some would even consider switching to a Centre that does have the cameras installed, if it would be possible in terms of distance and expense.

The most puerile excuse of all must have been “it’s better than watching television”. Alas, some parents still attempt to foster the idea that they “know everything” – and after a few sessions, when they can identify the child’s play-mates, they enjoy the look on his face when he talks about someone and they supply additional details like “he was wearing a Spiderman t-shirt” or “he pushed Chesney” or “he didn’t want to eat his lunch”.

A few parents said that the issue didn’t matter to them; some said they would feel guilty if there were cameras and they did not tune in; a handful said they would not watch the footage, although they had internet access both at home and at work.

Then there is the point of view of the administration.

Having nothing to hide and not wanting to be spied on (or, in politically correct language, ‘monitored’), are two totally different things.  There is such a thing as privacy, you know… seemed to be the consensuses between those who replied to my question.

Nursery assistants are instructed to keep notes on the children – not about whether they have eaten all their lunch or required a change of clothes, which would be self-evident – but mainly whether they have had any behavioural or emotional issues.

However, there is the danger that if a responsible adult watches the children interact “live”, she is likely to ring up the Centre there and then and demand that action be taken immediately. This goes against the idea that sending a toddler to playschool teaches how not to be a helicopter mother, does it not?

The playschools contacting me back said they have an open door policy; changing rooms, playrooms, kitchens and nurseries may all be viewed by parents.  CCTV would enhance this,  and give day-care a state-of-the-art edge; however, it is a fact that when cameras are known to be present, people will be on their guard and act differently from how they would otherwise behave… which may be a good thing, but altogether stressful.

A parent who needs surveillance equipment for peace of mind would perhaps be better off looking at alternative childcare.

If push came to shove, should accidents happen or disputes arise, digital recordings would provide tangible evidence that conflicting witnesses would not.

It would be feasible, perhaps, to think of installing cameras covering the general area at the entrance of the Centre, the reception areas, and the play and garden areas, to respect the personal space of the staff.

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