How do you categorise your children?

How do you categorise your children?

The Primary Online Database is one of the worst ideas I’ve come across.  Dave Molloy wrote a good piece about how easy abuse of the system could be. I want to pick at one of the little threads. The ethnic or cultural background categorisation Its useful when looking at a system to take apart the assumptions underlying it . There is a much longer piece to be written about categorisation and we’ll take one element here.  This is a list of drop down choices for one of the pieces of information for the Primary Online Database. Ethnic or cultural background (drop-down list) White Irish Irish Traveller Roma Any other White Background Black African Any other Black Background Chinese Any other Asian background Other (inc. mixed background) No consent The comment I used on Twitter when I first saw this list  “The word you’d use to describe the list of ethnic/cultural choices in the Dept of Eduction planned Primary Schools Database is WRONG.” Categories are artificial ways of slicing up the world.  Dave Snowden wrote an interesting post on Categories recently. In it he quoted a passage from Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ which is worth quoting again here. Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to...
Our dopamine driven present

Our dopamine driven present

Hans de Zwart has written a piece on how Al Wei Wei the Chinese artist is living in all our futures. The whole thing is well worth a read. There is a lot to unpack in it. The paragraph that points to the New Intermediaries (Google, Facebook, Netflix) that sit between us and everything else is worth a book on its own. As is Disney normalising surveillance and quantified self technology through MagicBands. I was once asked to help someone start a business that put trackers on kids.  I found it deeply creepy and still do. Though as a parent of kids a little piece at the back of your mind is going. “Well it’d be nice to be sure”. Which is why these things will probably sell despite them being creepy. The end of the piece points out another problem with constant monitoring We need failure to be able to learn, we need inefficiency to be able to recover from mistakes, we have to take risks to make progress and so it is imperative to find a way to celebrate imperfection. The bit that really resonated with me was on Casinos and Natasha Dow Schüll and her book  ‘Addiction by Design’. In it, she clearly shows how the slot machine industry has designed the complete process (the casinos, the machines themselves, the odds, etc.) to get people as quickly as possible into ‘the zone’. The player is seen as an ‘asset’ for which the ‘time on device’ has to be as long as possible, so that the ‘player productivity’ is as high as possible. The comments on the use of...
Packaging up your children’s data (no date on a sale)

Packaging up your children’s data (no date on a sale)

The Department of Education are requesting that data on all primary school children be captured into a Primary Online Database. The list of data they are asking for is comprehensive. It includes PPSN numbers. This is what we know A new database of primary school students will gather personal information, including PPS numbers, information on ethnic and cultural background and religion. Some details will be kept for up to 30 years (Irish Times) List of data  includes: • First and second names • PPS number • Mother’s maiden name • Date of Birth and gender • Full address • Mother tongue • Ethnicity • Religion • Irish language exemptions • Enrolment date, teacher / class details • Previous school / pre-primary education • Learning support details There is also a free text box for “Notes about a pupil”. The Departments reference manual on the Database states Notes about a pupil may be entered into the ‘Notes’ tab. At present, notes entered here can be seen by Department of Education staff but this is to be changed so that only the school user may see the notes. The Department is also claiming that it is compulsory for parents to register their children. In the event a PPS number is not available for a student, the Department will use the mother’s maiden name to look up Department of Social Protection records. The Department also reports that only information on ethnic and religious background requires the consent of a parent of guardian. The data to be captured on the system may be captured on esinet.ie or an excel spreadsheet or on a schools  own system. It is not clear...