An examination invigilator (R) collects mobile phones from South Korean students before they take the College Scholastic Ability Test, a standardised exam for college entrance, at a high school in Seoul on November 7, 2013.
Jung Yeon-Je—AFP/Getty Images
March 21, 2014 4:56 AM EDT

What do educators in the world’s most wired country do when students just can’t put down their phones in class? They develop an app that has the power to remotely control all devices when on campus.

With the help of iSmartKeeper, teachers in South Korea’s Gangwon province, where several schools are trialling the technology, can choose to manage their students’ cell phone usage in several different ways. They are able to lock all phones while in school, allow only emergency calls, allow only phone calls or shut down all apps except certain educational tools. Using GPS geofencing technology, the app automatically takes control of phones as they enter school grounds.

South Korea’s government has become increasingly aware of the possible downsides of mass connectivity. Communication networks are faster and more accessible than those of most other countries, but younger South Koreans also said to have developed an unhealthy relationship with their devices.

According to the National Information Society Agency, 18 percent of the nation’s teens are addicted to their smartphones, meaning that they’re using them for more than seven hours a day and experience withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, insomnia and depression when removed from their phones. The South Korean government has responded with taxpayer-funded counseling – and tools like iSmartKeeper.

So far, the trials of the app have produced mixed results. Geofencing has misfired in at least one instance, keeping a student’s phone locked down for hours after leaving school. The app also only works on Android phones, and students have naturally found ways to bypass its restrictions. Nonetheless, the Gangwon Provincial Office of Education has reportedly advised all its 677 schools to start using the system. One can guess that their teachers have simply grown tired of collecting cell phones at the beginning of every day – a common practice until now.

[Verge, WSJ]

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