Personal Privacy in an Information Society. Record-Keeping Practice in Education


Some 60 million students are currently enrolled in formal educational programs provided by educational institutions. As a student moves from one point to another in the education system, his path is blazed by records concerning his performance, his behavior, and his own, and often his family's, life circumstances. These records are created by an educational institution mainly to record the student's progress, to help make decisions about him, and to improve the effectiveness of the educational programs the institution provides.

Education records are generated in many different organizational settings from pre-school through post-graduate institutions. For most individuals, the educational experience is a progression through a number of organizations with differing missions, roles, functions, and authorities with respect to both the individual and society. It is important to recognize that the record-keeping practices of educational institutions reflect those differences.

The mission and role of an educational institution are key determinants of its record-keeping practices. The mission of a pre-school is to care for and nurture children and to lay a foundation for the academic tasks they will confront in elementary school. The elementary school's mission is nurturant and custodial, but also includes formal instruction in reading, mathematics, and other subjects. As the child moves through the elementary years, the school's custodial role is augmented by a greater concern for socialization. Gradually, the school's nurturant role is overshadowed by its role in developing fundamental academic skills until the junior high-school years, when the nurturant role disappears altogether. The custodial role remains as long as compulsory education laws force children to attend school, but the school's emphasis shifts towards maintaining the order necessary to carry out its academic mission.

The post-secondary educational mission is almost exclusively one of intellectual development and training; it includes only vestiges of custodial care and behavioral control. In most post-graduate and professional schools a concern with socialization reappears, but is much more narrowly focused on inculcating professional mores and ethics. Thus, while the instructional mission runs as a common thread throughout all schooling, there are, in fact as well as in law, two quite distinct educational systems in this country: elementary and secondary education on the one hand, and post-secondary education on the other.