To Truants in Rome, SMS is the Enemy

By Elisabetta Povoledo International Herald Tribune

MILAN Students in Rome are becoming guinea pigs in an experiment that uses cellphones to deter truancy.

Starting on Monday for about six months, when students fail to show up for class and the school has not been previously notified, a text message will be automatically sent to their parents' mobile phones.

"We haven't invented anything new -- what's new is the instrument," said Ornella Bergamini, the school board official who coordinated the experimental project, which covers students aged 14 to 16 at four middle schools and eight technical institutes in one school district. That, she said, is "the most critical age for dropping out" and is usually preceded by repeated absenteeism.

The program is part of a larger interactive online portal for her school district. Text messaging, Bergamini said, lets parents know when their children were skipping school in real time. "It should be a useful deterrent," she said.

As cellphones have increasingly become a must-have for minors, cellular technology has rapidly evolved to intersect with many aspects of teenage life. Banned in many Italian schools during exam time because of their potential as a cheating device, cellphones, like other cellular and satellite technology, are now used to allow parents to monitor where their children are, and even how fast they are driving a car.

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Monty Solomon
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