Missing Persons

written 22 July 2001 being revised May 2006

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Social Studies and Technology Unit (Y11 or Y12-13)

1   Introduction

This Unit is really 2. The first Unit "Missing Persons: Understanding the Problem" is a Social Sciences Project suitable for Y11 or perhaps Y10. This unit is set in uncharted waters, so the second unit should not be attempted by a teacher without prior experience doing this first unit.

The second unit "Missing Persons Database" is a combined Social Sciences and Technology Project for Y12-13 and could span the school year.

Both units are primarilry Social Studies oriented because they are both a major initiative in Social Values. The outcome of both Units is to effect change in New Zealand Society in how we deal with missing persons.

2   Missing Persons: Understanding the Problem

Most countries today seem to not have an adequate way of tracing missing persons. Here in New Zealand a computer database of missing persons has been planned for over 5 years but never implemented. Since it is not illegal for a person to go missing it is not a high Police priority.

This unit covers a basic understanding of the problem. How big it is, how it affects people in their daily lives, and the Government Policies assocaited with it. The outcome of this unit is to consider policies that could help reduce the size of the problem.

There are a number of processes involved:

Social Studies Units on the same subject could be done at lower levels doing a truncated form of the excercise. The social issues involved in why missing persons are not given priority by Police is one possible project that could have Social Value outcome for a Y11 class.

This Unit also requires strong Information Technology skills and should be conducted as a combimed effort. The import aspect here is learning that IT can be used as an important level for constructive social change even by people who are not recognised as having power to change social systems. Because of the strong IT practical component this Unit should only be attempted by Schools with a strong IT curriculum. A variety of skills should be harnessed to work together to complete the project, including web expertiseto comminicate and collect data and set up a Missing Person's Website, database creation, population and management including image documents, and programming to knit these aspects together.

In addition graphics skills will be required to present docmunets and website to a level that invites public inspection and comment and feedback. An extra aspect to the project may be make a video regarding the social issues regarding missing persons that can be screened on a TV Current Affairs program. However presentation is not the major tool being used here to effect scial change. Much has already been said in the media about this issue. The sticking point is the claim that such a system is difficult to implement. That is the issue that the class must address and disprove in order to effect change.

Students will actually build a functioning missing persons database that is maintained and kept up to date. This may appear to be a huge undertaling, and indeed it is, but far from impossible in it is planned and executed carefully.

2.1   Social Value Goal

By far the most important aspect of this Unit is the acheivement of the Social Value Content. This may be accomplished by several means, but the general idea is for the class or combined classes to create a sufficiently effective Missing Person System that it can be promoted as a public document and used to lever changes in Government Policy with regard to handling Missing Persons.

There are several approaches:
Minimal system
Design a system and create a prototype that embodies basic functions. Thois prototype may rely on good presentation and full supporting design material to make its impact and create public leverage. The result should be of a quality to be presentable to a TV Current Affairs program.
Operational Local system
A prototype system designed to work within a locality. The need to get personal verification of facts limits the degree to which a single school can operate a National system. However the system can be demonstrated within a locality, and the extended design for the National system cam be specified.
National prototype system
A system that can be tested out on a National basis. This is a prototype that includes the aspects required to operate on a National basis and can be tested by schools in other areas.
Operational National System
This requires commitment from schools over the country to participate in this project. In particular in data collection about missing persons. Such commitment needs to extend to maintaining and operating the system long-term for it to be worth the trouble organing such commitment in the first place. Alternatively the system may be used by its creators leaving scool as a newly created career path. In other words, the students will have created a job for themselves for life.

The system will allow information about missing persons to be submitted over the net by someone wishing to report a missing person, and verified by personal interview. There are issues concerning the collecting and keeping of evidence which may help identify remains at a later date such as dental records. These are also now held on computer files.

Such issues as the "rating" of the missing person incident as likely suicide, vanishing or homocide bring up a lot of social issues. Some form of rule based process must be decided on in order to prompt government agensies to put resource into locating a missing person whose disappearance warrants further search. The net can be used to forward "prompting" email notices to relevant Police bases and other institutions.

While a web-based central database may possibly be maintained at one place, the system would need to operate nationally through many schools because of the practical groundwork involved. Due to the effect of the disappearance on other family members, this is a project which could receive whole-hearted community support.

In undertaking such a project, it should be appreciated that perhaps students are not the people who should be running such a service. However undertaking the project could be seen as a form of "constructive" political activism which will force a professionally based service to be provided. This should be seen as an appropriate positive outcome of the project, even if the student system is mothballed as a result. In addition there is no reason why students should not develop such a system for on-sale around the world, indeed new careers could be made from this project.

Very important lessons will be learnt during the course of this project no matter what the final outcome.

3   Lesson 1 - Why do people go missing?

This lesson explores the motivations people have for going missing. They include: There is a long list.

Next briefly consider the rights and responsibilities involved in locating a person. What are the rights and responsibilities of:

3.1   Assignment 1 - Research the rights and responsibilities of the parties involved in the disappearance and discovery of a missing person.

For each item consider the possible consequences of locating the missing person. This lesson explores a lot of issues and qualifiers are noted which can then be used to characterise the dissappearance event. A think tank discussion: There are a lot of possible qualifiers to be considered here.

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