Salmon, Napoleon and online safety

In 2002, The Salmon of Doubt, the sixth volume of Douglas Adams’ trilogy the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was published posthumously. In it Adams says;

Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Ask yourself these three questions about primary school-age children you work with.

  1. Do the children have mobile phones?
  2. Do they engage in online gaming?
  3. Are they members of an online social network?

If the answer to any of these is ‘no’, revisit the questions in three years’ time. I’ll bet the answer will be ‘yes’.

100 years before Adams’ book, G.K. Chesterton wrote a novel entitled The Napoleon of Notting Hill. In it he describes a game where;

The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.

Part of the problem is that the ICT curriculum for primary schools is largely becoming irrelevant (as is the secondary one). Children are turning away from it in droves. There is an apparent deepening divergence between what children do with digital technologies and what we teach them.

But does this mean that children know everything and we know nothing?

No. The biggest single issue related to online technologies in education over the next few years will be e-safety in all its incarnations. It will be the softer, human, ethical skills that we will need to focus on.

This relates to issues relating to:

  • Online grooming by sexual predators
  • Exposure to potentially harmful material
  • Identity protection
  • Online addiction
  • Cyberbullying

Independent schools are not immune to these issues and they relate to out-of-school use as much as in-school use.

Some statistics

  • Young gamers spend on average 8 hours weekly playing online.
  • Young people sleep 2 to 3 hours less per night than 10 years ago.
  • In January 2010, 18 million accounts were registered on Second Life.
  • Facebook reports more than 500 million active users (3rd largest country)
  • Users spend 700 billion minutes on Facebook each month.
  • 20% of children who regularly log on to the Internet say they have received an unwanted sexual solicitation via the Web. Solicitations were defined as requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk, or to give personal sexual information.
  • 25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online.
  • Only 30% of households with Internet access are actively protecting their children with filtering or blocking software.
  • 75% of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services.
  • Only approximately 25% of children who encountered a sexual approach or solicitation told a parent or adult.
    • 22% of the targets for sexual predators were users under 13.

What do we do?

  1. In accordance with last year’s Ofsted guidelines we need to move away from a reliance on locked down systems to monitored systems with good educational provision for children, parents and teachers.
  2. We need to work closely with form tutors, PSHE teachers and pastoral staff
  3. We need to educate children about locking down privacy settings
  4. We need to take control. Zip it. Block it.

Other issues

  • Cyberbullying
  • Online, social gaming by girls
  • Increasing usage of mobile/gaming devices

Is it all doom and gloom?

No. There are massive opportunities for both information and communications technologies, but with this comes new forms of literacy. Our challenge is to bring children’s personal, social and ethical skills in line with their technical skills.

As Diana Laurillard says “This is not rocket science. It is far more complicated than that.”

There are many programmes to support this work.

  • DigitalMe- SAFE (social networking for primary school children)
  • CEOP
  • Childnet
  • Safer Internet day on February 8th.

We must educate children to behave ethically, skilfully, intelligently and creatively.

Douglas Adams says “Technology is a word that describes something that doesn’t work yet.” Education on the other hand is something that does work. In the case of e-safety, our challenge is to align it to the technology in a meaningful and effective way.

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