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Nara mulls tracking school children with IC tags

IC tags for the Tsuitamon location system are seen at the Nara Municipal Government on Aug. 8, 2019. (Mainichi/Honsu Kan)

NARA -- The municipal government here on Aug. 26 launched a trial operation of a system for parents and guardians to track the whereabouts of their children outside school by having them carry IC tags called "Tsuitamon" ahead of the possible introduction of the system at all public schools in the city.

Tsuitamon, which is operated by a nonprofit organization in the city of Osaka in western Japan, already allows parents and guardians to know when their children carrying the devices passed through the school gate on their way to and from school. The city of Nara, also in western Japan, had introduced the system to all municipal elementary schools by September 2018, and is now testing the tracking service to be added to the system.

When children carrying Tsuitamon on their bags pass through the school gate, sensors and security cameras installed on the gate detect the passage and record the time and images. If subscribers sign up for an optional service for 200 yen per month, the time of the passage is sent to parents and guardians via email. As of June 10, 67% of parents and guardians in the city had signed up with Tsuitamon, with 33% of them using the paid service.

According to the city's board of education, the system has been favorably received by parents and guardians, with one of them saying, "It notifies me of what time my child passed through the school gate, so I can greet them by guessing when they'll be home." Some parents, however, said concerns remain over the whereabouts of their children on their way to and from school.

The trial operation began in an area around Tomiokita Elementary School. The tracking system is designed to detect children's whereabouts using receivers installed in the school district and the smartphones of users who have downloaded dedicated free applications. Parents and guardians can check their children's locations anytime using their smartphones and computers. If they sign up for an optional service for 300 yen a month, they can use full services including the additional one. After sounding out parents and guardians' reactions to the supplementary tracking service, the city will consider introducing it to all its elementary schools.

In the Tomiokita Elementary School's commuting zone, a total of 15 receivers are being installed with the cooperation of local shops, clinics and kindergartens. As the accuracy of location detection will improve if there are more cooperators carrying smartphones, the city has called on volunteers watching over children on their way to and from school, federations of neighborhood community associations and other bodies to download the app.

"We'd like to build a mechanism with which we can watch over children, with the help of both human and mechanical powers," said Mayor Gen Nakagawa.

In order to use Tsuitamon, parents and guardians need to sign a contract with the operator of the service. For more information, call the Nara Municipal Board of Education's bullying prevention and student guidance division at: 0742-34-4863 (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Honsu Kan, Nara Bureau)

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