School gets tech savvy with GPS trackers

Students of Rhenish Church Grace School are using the technology to help them stay with their group during trips to the mainland

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 May, 2013, 3:20am

A school for mentally disabled children has found a novel use for GPS technology by tracking its students to stop them getting lost during outings.

The Rhenish Church Grace School, in Diamond Hill, used GPS trackers on their senior secondary students for the first time during a tour of Guangdong province this month.

The principal, Samuel Tse Hing-sang, was able to locate students on a map on his computer and take immediate action if any strayed from the group.

"We are always worrying about our students running off and getting lost, even in Hong Kong," Tse said.

The school has 103 students aged six to 18. Most are moderately mentally disabled and some have very little language ability.

"They have the ability to run around, but they lack the ability to face contingencies," Tse said. "If we can locate lost students early, we can minimise the risk of accidents."

As the children gain more opportunities to go on learning tours, keeping them safe has become a major issue for the school. It has sought legal advice to confirm that using GPS devices would not breach any laws. Parental consent is required.

During the school's recent three-day trip to Huizhou in Guangdong, 12 students aged 16 to 21 were taken care of by 10 teachers and staff members. Each student wore a GPS tracker on their neck. They stayed in a military school for most of the trip, but also visited a local village school and a museum.

Meanwhile back in Hong Kong, Tse and two other staff members took turns monitoring the students' locations on their computer in their office or at home. An alarm would sound when any of the students left pre-set boundaries.

During the group's visit to a night market, Tse noticed one of the students straying a bit too far from the others. He immediately contacted a teacher on site to tell him to find the student.

Tse recalled a previous trip to Qingyuan in Guangdong, in which a 19-year-old got on the wrong tour bus. His mother, who had joined the trip as a volunteer, could not find him in the car park of a scenic spot they were visiting after she came out of the washroom. Luckily, she spotted him just in time, getting on another group's tour bus.

And it is not just during school hours that these children's safety is an issue, as the parents of one student discovered when the 13-year-old boy left his home in Wong Tai Sin alone one morning. His parents and police officers searched for him all day and finally found him in Tsuen Wan in the evening. He said he had got on a minibus and the driver had let him ride for free.

The school is considering lending out 14 GPS trackers to parents to help tackle incidences like this, charging them a deposit of HK$400.

Tse sees potential for greater use of the devices in future, possibly for people with other disabilities or illnesses, such as dementia patients.