A trend just now getting under way in North America is considerably further along in Japan. And because of that, cutting classes just got harder for some Japanese students. Japanese schools might be safer now, education officials there say — thanks to computer chips that help track students’ whereabouts.

Some schools in Japan have begun trial runs this month 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.

University of Pittsburgh professor Marlin Mickle displays one form of radio frequency ID tag called the PENI Tag. (Associated Press photo)

School officials say escalating 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 Sept. 27, 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 reported Sept. 28.

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

In the United States, Buffalo’s Enterprise Charter School began a pilot program last year that uses radio-frequency identification tags to track when students and teachers enter and leave the building. (See “Controversial radio ID tags keep track of students.”) Enterprise is believed to be the first such U.S. school to adopt the technology.