Integrated Biometrics VP David Gerulski on exorcising Pakistan’s ‘ghost teachers’
11 January 2016 14:02 GMT

By Craig Guthrie, deputy editor

A ‘ghost teacher’ problem in Pakistan that had grown so bad it led to the closure of thousands of schools is finally being addressed through biometrics.

The problem was much worse than the standard ‘ghost’ employee issue where fake or former workers exploit bureaucratic holes to continue drawing monthly salaries.

In Pakistan, particularly its southern Balochistan and Sindh provinces, entire ‘shadow schools’ were still being funded although the facilities were long abandoned.

By 2013, the problem was costing the country billions of rupees per year and being blamed for the closure of more than 5,000 schools.

These closures represented lost opportunities for millions of children, Transparency International wrote in a damning report published that year.  

“‘Shadow schools’ perpetuate cycles of abject poverty, child labour and unemployment and compound [Pakistan’s] poor performance in education indicators”, wrote the anti-corruption watchdog.

To finally tackle the issue, a World Bank-backed project launched last year has seen biometric solutions supplied by South Carolina-based Integrated Biometrics help local authorities exorcise the ‘ghosts’.

Although the system only launched in May 2015, the identities of some 84,000 out of 150,000 teachers had been verified by October. So far, this has enabled some 3,000 schools to re-open.

Planet Biometrics talked to Integrated Biometrics Vice President David Gerulski about the unique challenges the project raised.

Can you describe the World Bank-funded project in Pakistan addressing massive "ghost teacher" problems the country is having? What biometric modalities is being used and what technology has proved most effective?

The Pakistan "ghost teacher” project required a truly mobile fingerprint option – one that would consume very little power, work in daylight in dry and dusty conditions.  The organisation chose Integrated Biometrics PIV Certified single finger “Columbo” units. These units can run off the power provided by a cell phone or tablet for hours.  They are so small and rugged that they can fit in a cargo pants pocket or equipment vest.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in implementing the project?

This project took a lot of coordination among the organisations that conceived the idea of saving money by reducing fraud in the education system.  It took forward-thinking individuals willing to take the risk to fight fraud and make a difference in educating the community.

The solution involved officials from the World Bank and the Pakistani government along with members of the Pakistani Education Department. The challenge went beyond these brave individuals’ attempt to stop fraud and save money by funnelling legitimate funds from the corrupt to the good. They also had to go into the field in remote areas throughout Pakistan to enrol and record fingerprints.

Back in the US, Integrated Biometrics had to build a product that would meet these harsh environmental and physical requirements. In our mind, this was an easy challenge compared to what our partners in the field were experiencing.

What trends are such technologies addressing? And how do you see these developing?

Our technology is taking fingerprint biometrics out of the darkened clean-room. You don’t even have to look back. Look around. Places where individual’s fingerprints are being enrolled or verified are typically dark environments with clean-room type applications (think the customs line at an airport). This is because optical scanners do not work well in direct sunlight, or brightly lit rooms. They require lots of energy because the units themselves use lights to illuminate the fingers. Optical scanners are heavy because they have glass prisms inside and glass platens (that require constant cleaning) outside. 

Our products work in any light, or absence of light, condition, never need to have latent prints wiped away, are small and lightweight. Our light emitting sensor film is the definition of a disruptive technology – it changes the way people are being identified throughout the world.

Are there any other projects worldwide that underline these examples?

Our sensors are used to help identify voters in Brazil, undocumented individuals within Latin America and Africa requiring social and financial services, and also for the grim work of identifying the dead in some of the most tragic disasters the world over.

By providing FBI Appendix F certified sensors to the market in a configuration that allows biometric companies to build truly mobile devices, we help the poor and under-serviced receive benefits that they deserve.

 

Integrated Biometrics will be exhibiting at connect:ID 2016, 14-16 March, Washington DC. connect:ID is an international conference and exhibition that focuses on all aspects of identity technologies and the opportunities for their management in both the physical and digital worlds. www.connectidexpo.com

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