Teachers Must Delete Class Chats On Whatsapp

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Swiss schools are struggling with the new EU rules on data protection – because the Messenger service has raised the minimum age.

In Dietlikon ZH school principal Reto Valsecchi is working on a letter from parents. In it he announces that the popular class chats on Whatsapp will be turned off – of necessity. For a week now, it has been illegal for teachers to talk to their students via this messenger service. “Whatsapp has raised the minimum age for users from 13 to 16 years,”

says Whatsapp CEO. “Now teachers can no longer communicate with their students through this channel.” In Switzerland, schooling usually ends when students are 15 – too young for Whatsapp.

The reason for the tightened conditions of use is a new EU law, the so-called basic data protection regulation with the bulky abbreviation: DSGVO. It entered into force on 25 May and stipulates that only data of children aged 16 and over may be processed. Since Whatsapp also collects data, the age limit has been increased accordingly. The new rules apply to the entire “European region”, as stated by Facebook’s Messenger service, which includes Switzerland and the Vatican.

With around 6 million users, Whatsapp is the largest digital network in Switzerland, especially popular with teachers. At the push of a button, they provide their pupils with information on changes to the timetable, excursions or class camps, they transmit documents and pass on voluntary learning material. “Homework and support is also organised through Whatsapp groups,” says Christian Hugi, President of the Teachers’ Association of the Canton of Zurich.


“Whatsapp is not unproblematic, as data protection experts warn. But raising the minimum age is completely exaggerated,” says Alain Pichard, teacher at the Upper School Centre Orpund near Biel in the Canton of Berne. Bans are generally “bad” for young people. The digital channel is appreciated by teachers because “here you can communicate quickly and easily with the students”.

E-mail, SMS – the Search for Alternatives is Underway

Teachers and headmasters all over Switzerland are currently discussing how things should continue after the Whatsapp era. In Dietlikon, Zurich, headmaster Valsecchi has set up an official e-mail address to replace all 200 students. At Pichard’s school this week, 20 teachers discussed alternatives to Whatsapp as part of a training course and set up a working group to follow this up with the involvement of parents. “After the summer holidays there should be a solution for the new classes,” says Pichard.

The Zurich Teachers’ Association assumes that the teachers who used Whatsapp are “now likely to switch to other apps,” says President Hugi. However, this would require that other messenger services do not follow the age limit. “You could also switch to an e-mail exchange,” says Hugi.

The lawyer of the Cantonal Teachers’ Association “Education Bern” is going down even further technically. At the request of a school, he wrote down in a letter that “the good old SMS could replace class chats in the future”.

The headmaster of the Aargau school, Peter Merz, doubts whether this will reach the young people. “The younger generation certainly doesn’t know what that is anymore.” E-mails are also rather unreliable. “Sometimes the internet connection doesn’t work or the students don’t check if something has come. What’s more, some of them can’t sync it to their cell phones.”

Merz has dug through Whatsapp’s 34-page guidelines – and discovered an exception, but its implementation is costly. With the consent of all parents involved, the chats could be continued. Now Merz wants to send a letter. “In it we ask the parents for their support so that we can continue using Whatsapp.”

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