Schools are tracking what students do on their mobile phones using technology that can also disable their cameras, The Age reports.
In a bid to protect students from pornography, predators and other online dangers, some schools are turning to technology that notifies teachers, parents and welfare staff when students access concerning material on their mobile phones.
But students and privacy experts have raised concerns about the initiative, which they say erodes trust and puts children under unnecessary surveillance.
The surveillance tool, which has been developed by Australian company Family Zone and is being rolled out at 40 schools, can also block students' access to inappropriate internet sites and "distracting" phone apps.
It solves the issue of students bypassing filters on their school's internet network by using their personal phones.
Parents have to give permission for schools to use the technology, and can extend the surveillance into their homes.
It relies on students downloading a tamper-proof phone app, and a portal lets parents see what sites, messages and apps children are accessing. Schools and parents can deactivate the phone's cameras and a sleep timer bars students from accessing the internet at bedtime.
Marist College Bendigo decided to roll out the technology after fielding calls from parents who wanted more control over their children's phones.
The school's technology leader, Tony Hoye, said parents and teachers would soon meet to decide which search terms would trigger an alert to wellbeing staff at the school and families. These might include suicide, eating disorders or the adult dating app Tinder.
"This give parents a bit of control back and visibility. The monitoring is to start a conversation between the parent and the child rather than a punishment type of scenario," Mr Hoye said.
But Victorian Student Representative Council executive student Spencer Davis – a Year 11 student at Footscray City College –said the technology undermined children's agency because it did not require their consent.
"It has an Orwellian feel to it. It's invasive and unfair," he said.