Surveillance Capitalism in Schools: What’s the Problem?

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Digital surveillance in schools has been legitimised by the two-fold reasoning that it will optimise learning (the educational imperative) and increase safety in the school context (the safeguarding imperative). Yet a new layer of commercial surveillance has been introduced, through the third-party provision of educational technology governed by surveillance capitalism. Despite privacy concerns and routine breaches and misuse of children’s data, certain platforms have come to dominate the educational infrastructures at a massive scale. The protective legal frameworks such as the GDPR are somewhat disconnected from the social reality of schooling, and the discourse of ‘privacy’ is insufficient to understand the real existential harm. The following analysis seeks to highlight that the dynamics of surveillance capitalism in schools is an ethical threat to sustainable education, and a young person’s healthy sense of self. The analysis draws on David Lyon’s work on electronic surveillance, in particular the notion of ‘personhood’ to delineate where the existential harm occurs if surveillance capitalism continues to be an accepted model for EdTech in schools. While education is the threatened space, it can also provide a viable way forward in a digital literacy curriculum which has true criticality, agency and empowerment at heart.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalDigital Culture and Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jan 2022


  • data protection
  • platforms
  • surveillance capitalism
  • digital surveillance
  • educational technology

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