updated 9/28/2004 9:02:56 AM ET 2004-09-28T13:02:56

Cutting class just got harder but schools are safer thanks to computer chips that help track students, Japanese officials say.

Some schools here this month began trial runs in which students carry chips that have tiny antennae and can be traced by radio, with some of the kids attaching the tags to their backpacks.

The chips send signals to receivers at school gates.  A computer in the system shows when a student enters or leaves.

School officials say rising concerns about student safety prompted the idea.

"More than 70 percent of parents supported the trials, indicating there is wide appreciation for this kind of effort," said Ichiro Ishihara, a teacher at a public elementary school in Iwamura town, Gifu prefecture, about 170 miles west of Tokyo.

"And the kids love it — they think it's cool," he added.

Violent crimes such as murder, assault and robbery are still relatively rare in Japan.  But minor crimes and juvenile delinquency have pushed total crime numbers to record highs amid a long economic slowdown.  A recent survey showed that more than half of Japanese believe their country has become unsafe.

Ishihara said 72 of his school's 334 students have been carrying the tags since the trials were launched in early September.

On Monday, electronic giant Fujitsu teamed up with suburban Tokyo's private Rikkyo Elementary School to launch a trial in which the tracking chips were attached to 40 students' backpacks, a school official said.

In Rikkyo's system, messages can be sent to parents' cell phones so they know what time their children left the school, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper said Tuesday.

The school hopes to have all 717 of its students using the system by next April, the newspaper said.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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