Student (K-12) Data Protection in the Digital Age: A Comparative Study

Authors Kai Feng, Sylvia Papadopoulos

ISSN: 2522-3062
Affiliations: Bachelor of Law; Deputy Director and Associate Professor of America-China Law Institute, China University of Political Science and Law; Senior Lecturer University of Pretoria and Chair of the Law Schools Global League: New Technology and the Law Research Group
Source: Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa, The, Volume 51 Issue 2, p. 261 – 287


Schools have traditionally aggregated student education records themselves, in written formats and with relatively unsophisticated systems. However, today the amount of record keeping has increased and schools are ever more reliant on third-party operators, who compile information and operate databases systematically and more efficiently. These and other factors have opened opportunities for private vendors to access student data and to share it with others. In addition, schools now routinely incorporate various forms of digital technology in the form of educational software, teaching aids, websites, and programmes that provide connected devices to each student, allowing and encouraging teachers to incorporate technology into their lessons. By its very nature, the internet is a marketing information-sharing environment and the potential for traceability exists whenever the students are engaged in online activities. With these advances and developments, data security and other concerns become of paramount importance. Among the issues that have been raised are issues such as how can the legal system engage in harm reduction? Which legal approach is appropriate? What is the scope of student data that the law should protect? To what extent should schools and operators be held accountable for compliance? How do regulators maintain the balance between the need for student data protection and other interests? To date, proponents of new technology have given insufficient answers to these questions. This comparative study aims to find common strengths in different approaches to these issues relating to student data protection, while at the same time considering cultural and legal differences that exist among the following jurisdictions: the United States (US), the European Union (EU), China, and South Africa.