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Japanese university uses iPhone to keep tab of students

A Japanese university gives its students an iPhone 3G for free, partially to thwart truancy.

The attendance reporting app used by the Aoyama Gakuin university. SoftBank

If American school children have to resort to some special mosquito ringtone to use cell phones at school, a university in Japan is doing the opposite: giving cell phones to students. And not just any cell phone--the iPhone 3G.

According to Asiajin, about 550 students and staff members in the School of Social Informatics at Tokyo-based university Aoyama Gakuin received the iPhone 3G for free earlier this month as part of their study materials.

This is the result of a deal that Aoyama Gakuin signed with SoftBank, the exclusive vendor of the iPhone in Japan. The number of students using the iPhone is expected to reach about 1,000. This is the first time a particular cell phone has been used on such a huge scale at a Japanese university.

The gadget will work as a study tool for students, but as it also comes with GPS, which the university plans to use to check student attendance. Truancy is a big problem in Japan, where regular attendance is an important factor in determining a student's grade. Students often fake attendance by getting classmates to answer roll calls.

Now, with the iPhone 3G, the school plans to keep better tabs on its students. Students are allowed to use the phone for attendance reporting (but only if they are actually in the classroom, a fact that will be verifiable based on the phone's GPS), lecture podcasting, and online examinations. A student can't answer the roll call using the phone from any location other than the classroom.

Students can, of course, still cheat the new system by leaving their phones with fellow classmates, but this is not very likely to happen, as people tend to keep a lot of private information on their phones that they don't want to share with others.

As for calling and data plans, the university covers the basic fee. The the hardware itself is free, but students will have to pay when they exceed downloading limits.