How Do Primary School Pupils Perceive School Surveillance Cameras? Normalization, Resistance, and Privacy Consciousness
This study explored how primary school children perceive school surveillance cameras (CCTV) and how their perceptions relate to their privacy consciousness. It focused on the following questions:
- What do children know about their school’s surveillance cameras?
- How do children respond to school surveillance cameras?
- What are the positive and negative aspects that children ascribe to school surveillance cameras?
- How do children understand different usages of school surveillance cameras for education purposes?
- Do children link school surveillance cameras and their right to privacy, and if so, how?
The theoretical framework of the study is structured along three axes. The first axis reviews literature on school surveillance cameras, exploring their objectives, usages, and their educational and ethical implications (e.g., Hope, 2009; Perry-Hazan & Birnhack, 2016; Taylor, 2013; Warnick, 2007).
The second axis reviews studies that explored the development of rights consciousness – the process that motivates people to define problems and obstacles in terms of rights (e.g., Engel & Munger, 2003; Merry, 2003). These studies have demonstrated that the development of rights consciousness relies on conveying knowledge pertaining to the availability of rights and on practices that reinforce the experience of these rights. Childhood experiences affect the ability to develop rights consciousness later in life, as this early period shapes individuals’ personality, their worldview, and their perception of self and others (Engel & Munger, 2003; Morrill, Edelman, Tyson, & Arum, 2010).
The third axis, which links the previous two, reviews studies that examined children’s privacy consciousness (e.g., Bach et al., 2011; Marwick & boyd, 2014), and children’s perceptions of surveillance practices and responses to such practices (e.g., Barron, 2014; Bracy, 2011; McCahill & Finn, 2010; Ruck, Harris, Fine, & Freudenberg, 2008; Taylor, 2010; Weiss, 2007). Few of these studies explored how adolescents perceive school surveillance cameras. Taylor (2010) conducted focus groups with adolescents attending three secondary schools in the UK. She found that numerous adolescents felt that the use of the cameras in their school was symptomatic of an underlying mistrust of them, and thought that the cameras were unnecessary and unjustified. Yet, Taylor found resignation among the adolescents to the fact that within the school environment they had very little power to object or question the surveillance. Bracy (2011) reached similar findings, by conducting an ethnographic research in two American secondary schools. The adolescents thought that high-security strategies, including cameras, were largely unnecessary, but they tended to normalize the use of these strategies. McCahill and Finn (2010) conducted focus groups with adolescents attending three UK secondary schools. They showed how the experiences and responses of the pupils to surveillance varied across social positioning of class and gender, and how the pupils shaped the surveillance regimes by evading, negotiating, and resisting them. The privileged position of pupils at a private school enabled them to perceive themselves as immune to much of the surveillance targeting, rather perceiving it to be directed at ‘Them’ (e.g., ‘criminals’, ‘Chavs,’ and ‘drunks’). In contrast, marginalized pupils experienced a range of surveillance practices that monitored, confronted, and punished them for anti-social activities. The study also showed that pupils at a girls’ school experienced a voyeuristic surveillance regime that permeates the wider culture of displaying women’s bodies by the mass media.
The current study focuses on the perceptions of younger participants: primary school pupils, rather than adolescents. Our study contributes to the literature by applying a law-and-society theoretical framework, which facilitates conceptualizing children’s perceptions in terms of rights.
The participants in our study were 57 children (23 boys, 34 girls) aged 9 to 12, recruited from fourth to sixth grade classes in three Israeli public schools that had installed surveillance cameras. The schools had diverse pupil populations and were located in different cities. In all three schools, cameras were positioned outside the school building and were directed at entrances, yards, and fences. In two schools, cameras were located in various places inside the buildings, such as corridors, toilet entrances, library, and teachers’ room.
The research tools comprised 15 focus groups, with each group including about five children. We decided not to conduct individual interviews, because we assumed that the issue was unfamiliar to most of the children and that the interaction between them would facilitate engagement and exchange of ideas.
The focus groups were convened at the schools, after receiving the consent of the parents and the assent of the children. We explicitly explained that the children were not required to participate and that they could withdraw at any point. The procedures were approved by the Israeli Ministry of Education and the IRBs of our universities.
The interviews included general factual questions regarding surveillance cameras and open questions, eliciting the children’s opinions regarding their installation and usages. In addition, we used several short vignettes describing different usages of school surveillance cameras for educational purposes. We designed the vignettes in accordance with a previous study that explored how school principals integrate school surveillance cameras in educational practices (Perry-Hazan & Birnhack, 2016).
In addition, three telephone interviews were conducted with teachers––members of the management team in each school––in order to verify information regarding the cameras’ locations and usages.
The interviews were recorded and transcribed. We used Dedoose software to analyze the data. The initial coding scheme relied on the structure of the research questions. We then designed two horizontal codes of normalization and resistance, which emerged from the findings, and used these codes to provide a deeper analysis of the research questions.
A group of five children advised the research team during the research process. The goal of the consultation process was to improve the research’s quality and to follow a rights-based methodology (Lundy & McEvoy, 2011). Three consultation meetings were held with the advisory group at different stages of the study. The children’s advisory group contributed to shaping the research questions, analyzing data, and formulating conclusions.
The findings indicated that most children either did not know much about their school’s surveillance cameras, or raised various speculations regarding their location and technical abilities, the timing of their installation, the objectives of their usage, and the identity of the people who have access to the footage. The children's partial and inaccurate information had its source in conversations with other children. There was no discussion with educators regarding the cameras, except for one case in which a teacher mentioned the cameras in the context of her warning the children to behave properly.
The findings indicated the presence of complex tensions between normalization and resistance in the children’s perceptions of school surveillance cameras. We had expected the children to normalize the school surveillance cameras, given the naiveté of their young age and having grown up into a technological world that produces a habitus of surveillance (see Bourdieu, 1990). However, the findings showed that many of the children participants did not accept the different practices of camera usage and indicated cases in which they felt that these practices derogated their rights or undermined educational processes. The reasons raised by the children relied, inter alia, on intuitions about privacy and its justifications, which fit some dominant privacy theories, especially relating to human needs and social relations.
The conclusions of the study pointed to the need to critically examine the usages of school surveillance systems, the implications of these usages, and the ways by which children receive information concerning the cameras and participate in the decision making. An inclusive discourse, which was absent in all of the participating schools, may help achieve better insights into children’s perceptions, serve to decrease resistance and criticisms, and raise the level of the children’s trust in the school’s staff.
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This proposal is part of a master or doctoral thesis.