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South Korean schools are remotely disabling students' smartphones

South Korean schools are remotely disabling students' smartphones

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Following small-scale trials, Korean officials are reportedly moving forward with a plan to install remote management software on students' smartphones. iSmartKeeper is an app that restricts what services and apps students have access to. With the app installed, teachers have the ability to lock phones down in one of six modes. Educators can choose to lock all of the phones in the school, allow only emergency calls, allow only phone calls, allow calls and SMS, or turn off specific apps. The idea is to prevent distractions in class, and iSmartKeeper can also allow access to only a single app, ensuring that educational apps can still be used as teaching aids.

A Korean-language news report showing (at 35 seconds) iSmartKeeper's remote lockdown feature.

These settings can adhere to a schedule so a teacher could automate the settings to, for example, allow access to only a certain educational apps in class while preventing text messages and chat, and then unlock the phones entirely during recess. The app can also utilize GPS geofencing to automatically begin restricting phones as students enter school grounds. In addition to the teacher tools, parents are provided with a management app that can block access to certain apps on a permanent basis, or similar scheduling tools to prevent a child from chatting while they're supposed to be completing their homework.

Some students rooted their phones to avoid restrictions

To date, the app has been trialled in at least 11 schools in Korea's capital, Seoul, and in other nearby provinces with mixed results. At least three schools chose not to continue with the scheme after finding that children were rooting their phones to circumvent the restrictions. One student reported that the geofencing tools didn't work, leading to phones being locked down for hours after kids had left school. The app is also Android only, meaning children with iOS and Windows Phone devices are unaffected. Android has a huge lead in Korea, largely due to the popularity of native brands like LG and Samsung, but iSmartKeepers' developers say an iOS version is coming next month. Others have raised concerns over the app's draconian nature, with one professor calling it a violation of students' human rights. Nonetheless, Korea's Gangwon Provincial Office of Education is reportedly advising all 677 schools in the province to begin using iSmartKeeper, while other areas of the country continue to trial the software.

Hyunhu Jang contributed to this article.