Home | Health+Wellbeing | Melbourne school successfully trials Australian-first contact tracing technology
Deputy Principal / Head of Senior School at Firbank Grammar School, Leandra Turner, talks to students about the Contact Harald tracing technology. Photo: Supplied

Melbourne school successfully trials Australian-first contact tracing technology

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic being largely under control across Australia, experts know that the virus is still circulating in some communities and could force the country into more lockdowns and school closures at any point.

It is for this reason that Firbank Grammar School in Melbourne has just completed an Australia-first COVID-19 contact tracing trial using Bluetooth-enabled technology.

The trial commenced on November 16 and ran for two weeks. It included 130 Year 10 students and 200 Senior School campus staff. 

Created by technology company Contact Harald, the trial was implemented to alleviate concerns regarding community outbreaks “that have kept children out of the classroom for most of 2020.” The strength of this tracing technology lies in the fact that it will notify only those students who have recorded close contact with an infectious student, therefore “enabling on-campus learning to continue with minimal disruption”. 

During the trial, school staff and students were given a Contact Harald, a wearable card that records and stores interactions within a 1.5 metre radius that last for more than two minutes. If a staff member or student notify that they are symptomatic or have tested positive for COVID-19, only users who have met the above conditions for possible transmission are sent an SMS and email via the secure Contact Harald database.

The database is owned and administered by the school, which has two primary benefits. First, it eliminates the need for external agencies (e.g the Department of Education) to control the situation and also nullifies cyber security concerns by not using downloadable and geo-tracking phone applications. Only parents or guardians of participants under the age of 16 years will receive a notification, in line with health and privacy regulations. 

Elissa Reid, Director of Health and Product at Contact Harald, said: “Contact Harald is the only complete and reliable solution currently available that allows those to return to work and school safely.

“We need teachers and school administration to focus on the health, safety and well-being of students transitioning back to on-campus learning and not be wasting valuable time on manual contact tracing measures.”

Deputy Principal / Head of Senior School at Firbank Grammar School, Leandra Turner, said she was proud the school participated in Contact Harald’s first Australian school trial. 

“The program is a welcome relief for our students so they can get back to their studies with the confidence that their wellbeing is our number one priority,” she said. 

“By providing our Year 10 students and teachers with a physical reminder that they are being kept safe, we hope to dispel any sort of fear that may be felt and get back to creating a productive, passionate and considerate environment for learning.”

Hannah was one of the Year 10 students at Firbank who was a fan of the technology. 

“All you need to do is walk in the gate and you tap into the iPad, and it logs you into the system,” she said. 

“At first it was kind of exciting to see all the new technology and stuff  that we could use to be learning at home and we were making the best of a bad situation. 

“But, of course, after a while it got a little old, and so when we got back I was excited to see everyone. I think I just focus a lot better in the classroom.”

While Turner said 2020 has been a difficult year, “staff have banded together” while being “forced into new technological spaces and into rethinking how [they] do schooling”.

“That part of it has been really positive actually, but, of course, it’s wonderful now having all of the students back together.”

Contact Harald technology is also being used by large, multi-national organisations across a range of sectors, including construction, aged care, manufacturing, entertainment and mining, both in Australia and overseas.

After the successful completion of the trial at Firbank, Contact Harald is planning to roll out the technology to other schools across the country. An interview with students and the deputy principal about the technology can be viewed here.

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