Privacy Commission’s updated online learning guidelines advise schools to enforce social media policy

Schools engaged in online learning are advised to strictly enforce a social media policy that reminds the possible data privacy consequences of posting screen captures, images, videos, chats, and sounds involving students and teachers during online learning on social media platforms.

Such actions may have implications on data privacy and other related regulations, according to the National Privacy Commission’s (NPC) updated bulletin on the data privacy best practices in online/blended/synchronous learning.

To assess and address concerns related to online learning, the NPC had dialogues with regulators such as the Department of Education and Department of the Interior and Local Government to gather inputs on the actual experiences of learners, educators, schools, and parents since the school year started.

Prioritize data privacy

All policies, guidelines, or codes involving the processing of personal data should always adhere to the general data privacy principles of transparency, legitimate purpose, and proportionality, with the best interests of the learner as the paramount consideration.

“The efforts of schools to simulate physical classrooms to provide a sense of normalcy for education is not unnoticed by the Commission. However, seeing as the COVID-19 pandemic caught all of us unprepared, there is a need to develop and improve policies that allow effective online teaching and learning without endangering data privacy rights,” Privacy Commissioner Raymund Liboro said.

A strict social media policy entails prohibiting teachers and other school personnel from using personal data collected in an official capacity and/or during an official school activity for personal purposes (e.g. posting in their social media accounts).

To protect the data privacy of both teachers and students, submissions of assignments and other school requirements may be done through available online messaging applications on a case-to-case basis, with consideration to the circumstances of teachers and/or students.

Submissions should be sent directly to the appropriate teacher or school personnel and not be made publicly available.

Likewise, teachers or school personnel should send communications involving student personal data (e.g. exam grades, results of assignments, report cards, reminders on unpaid school fees, etc.) directly to the concerned recipient/s and should never be posted publicly.

On the use of cameras

Opening of cameras during online learning is allowed. The Commission, however, stressed that policies or guidelines on the use of cameras for online classes and examinations should be reasonable and necessary to supervise and monitor learners and help educators in teaching.

Policies or guidelines on the camera use should consider encouraging the use of virtual backgrounds whenever possible to avoid displaying the private living spaces of teachers and students.

Consider equality and fairness in situations where learners “experience technical difficulties, limited internet connection, devices malfunctions, glitches on the online platforms used for online learning, and other analogous circumstances,” the bulletin read. Schools should determine alternative ways to monitor online classes and examinations in these situations.

Online classes may be recorded for learners who may have missed a particular class, subject to existing school policies on attendance. The recording may be used by the school and educators for training purposes, with learners and/or parents and guardians informed beforehand.

The above recommendations should be read together with the requirements of existing child protection policies and anti-bullying policies, as necessary and appropriate.

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