January 4, 2012

With increasing new communication technologies being made available to children and young people, there will always be a potential for them becoming a victim to online bullying. Online bullying, e-bullying or cyberbullying, is defined as follows: ‘the use of information and communication technologies such as email, [mobile] phone and text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal websites and defamatory personal polling websites, to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behaviour by an individual or a group, that is intended to harm others.’

Children and young people are keen adopters of new technologies, but this can also leave them open to the threat of online bullying. An awareness of the issues and knowledge of methods for dealing with online bullying can help reduce the risks. The issue of cyberbulling must be specifically addressed within a school/academy’s anti-bullying policy.

 Text Messaging

Bullying by text message has become an unfortunate and unpleasant by-product of the convenience that SMS (short message service) offers. Children should be advised to be careful about giving out their mobile phone number, and ask that those that have their number never pass it on. If only known and trusted friends know the number, it is less likely to be abused in this way. If being bullied by text message, children should immediately seek help from a teacher, parent or carer. They should not respond to the messages, but should keep a detailed diary recording information such as the content of the message, the date, the time, the caller ID or whether the number was withheld or not available. If space permits, the messages should also be stored on the phone in case they are needed later as evidence. Abuse in the form of bullying should be reported to the mobile phone company who can take certain steps to try to resolve the situation, and in some instances it may also be necessary to involve the police. In some cases it may be necessary, or easier, to change the mobile phone number or to purchase a new phone.

Like bullying by text message, email provides a reasonably ‘anonymous’ method of communication which bullies have seized upon to harass their victims. If being bullied by email, children should not respond to the messages, but should seek help from a teacher, parent or carer. Likewise if they receive an email message from an unknown sender, they should exercise caution over opening it, or ask an adult for assistance. Don’t delete the message but keep it as evidence of bullying. If the email is being sent from a personal email account, abuse should be reported to the sender’s email service provider. Many email programs also provide facilities to block email from certain senders. If the bullying emails continue, and the email address of the sender is not obvious, then it may be possible to track the address using special software. Email service providers may be able to offer assistance in doing this. In certain cases, it may be easier to change the email address, and exercise caution over who this new address is given to.

Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms

Aside from the general risks of using chat rooms and instant messaging (IM) services, these services are also used by bullies. Children should be encouraged to always use moderated chat rooms, and to never give out personal information while chatting. If bullying does occur, they should not respond to messages, but should leave the chat room, and seek advice from a teacher, parent or carer. If using a moderated chat room, the system moderators should also be informed, giving as much detail as possible, so that they can take appropriate action.

Instant Messaging (IM) is a form of online chat but is private between two, or more, people. If a child is bullied or harassed by IM, the service provider should be informed giving the nickname or ID, date, time and details of the problem. The service provider will then take appropriate action which could involve a warning or disconnection from the IM service. If a child has experienced bullying in this way, it might also be worth re-registering for instant messaging with a new user ID.


Although less common, bullying via websites is now becoming an issue. Such bullying generally takes the form of websites that mock, torment, harass or are otherwise offensive, often aimed at an individual or group of people. If a child discovers a bullying website referring to them, they should immediate seek help from a teacher, parent or carer. Pages should be copied and printed from the website concerned for evidence, and the internet service provider (ISP) responsible for hosting the site should be contacted immediately. The ISP can take steps to find out who posted the site, and request that it is removed. Many ISPs will outline their procedures for dealing with reported abuse in an acceptable use policy (AUP) which can be found on their website. Additionally, many websites and forum services now provide facilities for visitors to create online votes and polls, which have been used by bullies to humiliate and embarrass their fellow pupils. Again, any misuse of such services should be reported to a teacher, parent or carer who should then take steps to contact the hosting website and request the removal of the poll.

Specific issues regarding online bullying should be dealt with by the school or academy under its existing anti-bullying policies.

Digital Ethics Symposium

September 21, 2011

I will be fortunate to be attending the International Symposium on Digital Ethics, October 28th, at Loyola University Chicago.
This day-long symposium will feature Jane McGonigal, author of the NY Times bestseller Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. 

Featured presenters will include:
Charles Ess, Aarhus University
Miguel Sicart, IT University Copenhagen
Sally Wyatt, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences
Michael Zimmer, Univesity of Wisconsin Milwaukee
Luciano Floridi, University of Hertfordshire
Erin B. Reilly, Annenberg Innovation Lab
As well as a group of papers accepted through a juried competion.
The conference will be exploring ethics in regard to privacy, gaming, research, green computing, identity, citizenship and more.
Follow me on Twitter @albinwallace for regular updates during the symposium

Badlapur and the Bombay Teen Challenge

January 13, 2011

Mr Devaraj is a man with a vision and a mission. Mumbai has a red light district that is like something from a horror movie. Except worse. Girls as young as 10 and 11 are kidnapped from villages in northern India or Nepal and brought to Mumbai as sex slaves. They are kept in cages for 3 years where they are systematically and repeatedly tortured and raped. At the end of this time they are conditioned into sex slavery and have nowhere else to go. Many of these girls have HIV/Aids and children of their own who often contract the disease from their mothers.The orphans at Badlapur

For many years Mr Devaraj has been rescuing children and women from their slavery and taken them to the communities that he has built in Badlapur where they are cared for, nursed back to health and educated and trained to live normal lives. Today, I had the privilege of visiting these communities.

Mr Devaraj graciously picked me up from hotel and we drove the 2 hours through the picturesque mountains to the east of Mumbai to the first of these communities. I was greeted with many smiles and hugs and presented with a bunch of flowers after which the children sang to me whilst I drank delicious Indian tea spiced with ginger. I spent several hours with the children answering questions, looking at their art work and talking with them. The light and the happiness in their eyes are extraordinary. Just being with them is inspirational. They like jokes, and we spent time telling each other riddles. Their houses are simple but beautiful communities, spotlessly clean and maintained by the children themselves. Children as young as 3 years of age have responsibility for helping with the cleaning, the cooking and looking after one another. The highlight of the children’s week is when they can go on the computer for one hour and the older girls maintain friendships through Facebook. Do you know what Indian and Facebook have in common? Along with China, they make up the three largest communities in the world. It really struck home how ubiquitous social networking is around the world. There is a great educational programme for the young people, with individualised instruction for each child which guarantees that each child will be at an age-appropriate educational level within a year. It is truly not just an educational triumph but a triumph of humanity.

I also visited the orphanages. Often, when a sex slave dies of HIV/Aids, her children are dumped on the street. Two such children were Rhaji and Shaneer. Shaneer was three years old when her mother died and she and her one year old brother were left in the gutter. Shaneer used to make up songs for Rhaji. “Little brother, don’t cry. I will beg for food for you and I will look after you that you grow up to be a strong man”. This is how Mr Devaraj found them on the streets. A dying one-year old child with his three- year old big sister looking after him. The photographs Mr Deveraj showed me pictured two children on the brink of death. That picture was taken nine years ago. Today I met them. Shaneer is a charming and graceful girl of 12 and Rhaji is an energetic young 10 year old. They are still inseparable and happy beyond belief. The joy and the energy of all the children in the orphanage is contagious and through a mist of tears I could not help smiling. Joy like that is very infectious. I have also never been hugged by so many children in my whole life.

After eating a delicious lunch with them (Indians really know about good food, even the little ones), I reluctantly left the orphanage. Our next stop was the community for the women themselves, those who had been rescued from sex slavery. Many had HIV/Aids and today was a sad day as after a long battle, Nimi succumbed to her illness and died peacefully of pneumonia, a common complication with HIV/Aids. Although I was an outsider I was not treated as such and shared in their grief as Mr.Devaraj told them the news. They sang prayers softly amidst the silent weeping and the harsh reality of the environment from which these women were rescued really came home in a forceful way. I also visited the vocational workshop where a top Mumbai fashion designer had left her prestigious job in the city and come to Badlapur to teach the women how to make beautiful clothes and jewellery. I was presented with lovely silk trousers, handbags and earrings for my wife.

Mr Devaraj also runs a community for men who are recovered drug addicts and the educational, health and social programme that is run out of this remote, rural town community would match any major city drug rehabilitation programme for excellence of outcomes. The programme has a 98% success rate and I spent time talking with Bhandri, himself a recovered drug addict who was brought into the community 16 years as a rescued child and now heads up the programme.

It is hard to do justice to the impact and importance of this wonderful and effective humanitarian project and I do not have the skill with words or pictures to do it justice. I urge anyone who is reading this to go to to read the real story for yourself and please make a donation. This programme saves lives and is making a real difference to Mumbai sex slaves, their children and their orphans. I am pleased to wholeheartedly commend this project to everyone. Oh, and watch Slumdog Millionaire again. An insightful and beautiful film.

Digital Dharma

January 13, 2011

Digital Dharma

View from hotel

Mumbai Calling

I certainly was not expecting to see a satellite dish poking out of a Mumbai slum dwelling, but that probably tells you a bit about my bourgeois preconceptions. Why not, indeed? The view from the hotel terrace is amazing. Mumbai is big. Really big. Not Hitchhiker’s Guide big,  but big nonetheless. From one side I can see the Arabian Sea and on the other side, butting snuggling up against the hotel wall is a…..what? A shanty town? A slum? A community, certainly.

A colourful cartload of fruit is pushed through a group of teenagers playing cricket. A man builds an annex to his house with a sheet of corrugated iron. Children dressed like English public school girls walk through the dust. An elderly lady relieves herself under a tree. I look away quickly, realising that seeing these scenes through Western lenses is voyeuristic.

There is enough that is familiar here to unsettle an Australian/British middle-class sensibility. I found quickly that a temporary suspension of my preconceptions of order and logic is necessary. Yet I am drawn towards the use of ICT in this world that appears so strange to me. In the slums, everyone appears to possess a mobile phone. Denial of European concepts of housing, sanitation and clothing do not appear to preclude access to voice and data.

In his 1993 collaboration with Bob Neuwirth, John Cale referred to “Mozambique Electronique” as a forward glance to the way in which telecommunications would connect Third World (?) countries. The dynamics of the mobile phone in Mumbai are fascinating. Although one could describe the city as being languidly chaotic, the appropriation of contemporary telecommunications seems superficially at odds with the pulse of the place. Certainly it is modern, rational, capitalist, enlightened on the one hand, but also a sense of decay and growth not just at the edges but from the centre. Yet it represents one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

And through all of this, the unmistakable heartbeat of data and voice pump through all levels of this stratified society, connecting, reconnecting and helping define the rhythm of this ambiguous and contradictory city.

To Dadar and Back

It caused me to pause for thought when I realised that the hotel has 5 armed guards at all times. Getting a cab was problematic. It is not safe to flag one down as you risk getting run down in the process. One of the nice guards goes outside the hotel precinct and commandeers one for you. Then the fun starts. As with many things Mumbai, health and safety is an inconvenience that does not trouble this city. Traffic lights exist merely for decoration and the car horn is the major tactical instrument at the driver’s disposal. Several times I wondered if either the Australian or the British embassies would be obliging enough to repatriate the tangled mess of my body in the inevitability of my bloody demise in a Mumbai cab. Miraculously, I survived the ride, and after the cab getting lost several times (yeah, right) I was deposited marginally closer to the conference venue than from where I started out.

I was greeted by the charming conference organisers at the Navinchandra Mehta Institute of Technology and Development and I went through the bureaucratic business of conference registration filling in innumerable forms in triplicate one of which, touchingly inquired about my hobbies. I obliged by sharing my somewhat dull interests in excessive detail. Having received my conference pack and noting with a warm fuzzy feeling that my paper was published in the proceedings, I decided to take a walk in the surrounding area.

The Institute is in the university precinct and I enjoyed strolling around the campus dodging the motor scooters and lethal rickshaws. I suddenly found myself in a  market and every cliché came screeching into my head. Four sensory experiences occurred simultaneously.

Firstly, the noise. The rapid-fire chatter of bartering and street-talk provide a soundtrack like no other. Take a listen to the third part of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music if you want an approximation.

Secondly, the smells hit the inside of your nose and the back of your throat as if you had shoved your head into a spice rack and inhaled the entire contents. Coriander is the most prevalent. Chillies, onions and cardamom were also recognisable, but the air was infused with so many strange fragrances it made me lightheaded.

Thirdly, the colours are so bright and iridescent that they make your eyes water. Are tomatoes really supposed to be that red? The chillies that green, and the oranges that… Fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices piled high on trestle tables or on the crumbling pavement along with ubiquitous chrysanthemums in garlands and wreaths or stored as petals in large earthenware pots. Less visually appealing were the large portions of dead animals that punctuated the otherwise colourful vista. A fly-ridden goat’s head with a slightly annoyed expression on its face sat at a jaunty angle on the ground, its tongue turning slightly green and lolling gargoylishly from its mouth. I tried not to think too hard about what I had for dinner last night.

The fourth sensory assault was kinaesthetic, as street urchins tried to pick my pockets. Luckily, being reasonably tall I had cunningly placed my cash and phone in a top pocket which was out of reach. I half-heartedly waved them away and they gave up with remarkable good humour and went looking for other tourists, which I noticed, for the first time and with alarm, were absent. I must have stuck out like a sore thumb.

I moved on swiftly, choosing a road at random and walked towards what I guessed was the north. Five minutes into this walk I encountered a group of about 20 men walking towards me, a handcart at their centre. The man leading this procession was swinging what I assumed with my amazing powers of perception was a censer as it emitted a fragrant smoke. I stepped to one side and stopped as I realised this was a funeral procession. The deceased lay on the handcart, wrapped in white linen and with a garland of chrysanthemums around his neck. He had been an elderly gentleman with a white beard and hair and an avuncular expression on his face. He jiggled gently on the cart and seemed to be enjoying his last ride. I silently wished him good karma in his next life and waited for the procession to pass.

Further up the road I came across the Bengal Cricket Ground and stopped to watch the match for a while. A vendor was selling coconuts as refreshment nearby along with various brightly coloured and sweet-smelling snacks which I passed on, the image of the goat’s head still fresh in my mind. A small Hindu temple stood on the boundary of the ground where prayers were being offered, presumably to influence the outcome of the match. A couple of those might’ve been handy during the recent Ashes tour I thought with a sudden surge of bitterness.

Walking on, I entered what seemed to be a Muslim neighbourhood, the dead giveaway being the huge mosque towing over the neighbourhood with a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer from a precarious looking minaret. It had been several hours since I had left the conference registration and I was flagging slightly in the heat. A roving taxi driver noticed me and touted for a fare. As I had been in Mumbai for 24 hours, I considered myself streetwise and haggled the cost. We agreed 50 rupees (about 70 pence). After getting in the cab he immediately upped the fare to 100 rupees and a good-natured argument began. By the time we had reached the hotel, we had settled on 80 rupees. However, as I had enjoyed the interchange I gave over the full 100 rupees and shook his hand. The last time I saw him, he was on his mobile phone, no doubt telling his mates what a twonk Westerners are. This one, anyway.

Fuzzy Logic

And so to work. Having been had by the naughty rogue cab driver yesterday I was not be caught again and sharing a cab to the conference with a professor from Korea (hi,  Byoung) I paid the metered fare and not a rupee more. At the conference we were greeted with cardamom flavoured coffee so sweet you could feel your fillings melt. Prayers for a successful conference were offered up to the Hindu god, Ganeesh accompanied by some chanting and incense burning. Ganeesh is the elephant god of plenty and a jolly chap he looked indeed, beaming across the proceedings and waving his trunk in a benedictory way.

The keynote speeches were somewhat mixed in quality and I was initially disappointed until one of the speakers said something that I violently disagreed with. That cheered me up no end. There was an interesting discussion around the four I-s of social media (involvement, interaction, intimacy and influence) and some interesting linking of web 2.0 with multiple intelligences. After some workshops on neural networks, fuzzy logic and mobile technologies sounded good but frankly went way over my head we paused for lunch. I was delighted to see some rather literal translations of English dishes which although sounding alarming were delicious as they were flavoured with spices I had never encountered before. My favourite was the mushroom omelette which was translated (rather poetically I thought) as “fried smashed eggs with inimitable fungus” and which in Bill Bryson style I took pleasure in ordering verbatim.

After some lively discussions on social networking as a disruptive innovation, it was suddenly my turn to present a paper on the effect of learner response systems on mathematics achievement in years 7 and 8. Despite the rather dull title it seemed to go down a treat complete with smiling faces and polite applause. I even had some questions that I was able to answer nearly coherently. It was a long day and I took a stroll by sea before dinner looking out over the Worli Bridge. The beach is filthy but people didn’t seem to mind, playing ball, strolling and sitting watching the spectacular red sunset. There were three distinct things that reminded me that I was not walking along an Australian or English beach (as if these were sandy extremities that could be classified within the same genus). The first was the herd of cows (presumably sacred) that wandered nonchalantly along the shoreline look for all the world as if at many minute they would grab a boogie board and engage in some bovine surfing. This was however, extremely unlikely as the sea was the colour, texture, shape and smell of a cow pat.

The second thing that drew my attention was a man wearing a loin cloth, a garland of flowers and with long plaited red hair. I assumed he was some kind of religious figure as he walked briskly along the sea wall accosting the canoodling couples and extorting rupees from them in exchange for a blessing after which he theatrically flagellated himself with a large bullwhip which I suspected was more for aural effect than self-mortification. Anyway, he seemed to be doing pretty well out of this scheme with a 100% success rate from the couples he approached. Good luck to him and them.

The third thing was very curious indeed to a Western eye. A large concrete platform bore the body of a dead person which was being eaten by a flock of crows and what looked like kites and possibly a vulture. I did not spend too much time on ornithological analysis. It later transpired that this was probably a Zoroastrian funeral. Given the level of pollution in the city, this was probably a greener means of disposing of human remains than cremation, although there was an “electrical crematorium” just around the corner as well. So much for a stroll along the beach.

The conference organisers had organised a delightful “evening of culture” for us. Traditional and modern Indian dance performed by students of the university was charming, entertaining and genuinely moving. A particularly dramatic dance about Shiva was even slightly alarming in its dramatic execution and the story of Krishna was executed in a devotional and touching way. It was a lovely performance.

The dinner which followed was unlike any conference I have ever attended. For a start, it was in a tent which was a nice touch. The food was far more delicious than any conference I have ever had. Curries, soups, salads and sauces that almost vibrated with colour and flavour. It. Was. Fantastic. The fact that they were served on plastic plates with plastic cutlery and there were insufficient (plastic) chairs and (plastic) tables did not detract in any way from the meal. It was a happy event indeed.

On return to the hotel, I ordered an Indian (Black Dog) whiskey  which was delicious but tasted more like rum. A very good day indeed.

About 20 metres down the road from the hotels another world. Noise and pollution from scooters, motorbikes, ancient taxis, trucks, motorised rickshaws again assault the ears. Children play in the dirt, women weave baskets, men stir large woks of curry. Teenagers stand around languidly using expensive mobile phones. There is a simultaneous sense of chaos and lethargy. Everyone seems exhausted and people are asleep everywhere. On the pavement, in the gutter, in trees, in the road, standing up and sitting down. It is very, very difficult to make sense of the apparent  poverty and indolence without bring a neo-colonial bias to the scene. Can one ever step outside one’s own cultural values and beliefs and fairly and sympathetically understand cultures that differ so greatly from one’s own.

I have learned a great deal from this conference. There were some wonderful presentations. I was introduced to a conceptual framework to support self-directed learning in distance education. I heard about e-learning on the semantic web and intellectual property rights in podcasting. I heard for the first time about e-learning and synthetic learning outcomes and online teaching using metaphors. I was intrigued by the concept of e-trust (“an attitude of confident expectation in an online situation or risk that one’s vulnerabilities will not be exploited”, Corritore).

I fear that I took more away from this visit than I brought to it.

January 2011

Children, the internet and inequality

August 6, 2009

Children, the internet and inequality: what are the causes and consequences of exclusion? 

Dr. Albin Wallace 


My positionality in this paper is largely determined by my role as the Group Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Director of the United Learning Trust (ULT), a not-for-profit charity established in 2002 to build and manage academies in areas of high social deprivation. The British government conceived the academies programme as a strategy to redevelop schools in socially and educationally disadvantaged areas in England in order to provide improved educational standards and life opportunities for children and young people. Presently, ULT has academies in Manchester, Lambeth, Northampton and Salford, with plans to open further sites in Paddington, Walthamstow, Sheffield, Stockport, Barnsley, Banbury and Swindon over the next three years. Part of the educational provision of these academies is the design, commissioning and implementation of ICT facilities to improve teaching and learning. Inevitably, these facilities focus largely on Internet Protocol (IP) based provisions including access to the World Wide Web, email, interactive software and hardware tools. I am committed to the use of ICT to improve learning and teaching as well as to issues relating to the Internet and educational disadvantage, especially with respect to access and exclusion concerns. In this paper I will examine some recent research into the issue of inequality and use of the Internet during which I will discuss the causes and consequences of exclusion in the context of social inequality, digital literacy and digital inequality, also touching on issues of global inequality. 


At a superficial level, the Internet can be seen as a global, ubiquitous phenomenon that potentially cuts across traditional socio-economic barriers. But there are philosophical, sociological and practical concerns that complicate this, especially in the context of education. The Internet is certainly an important element of education and has been embraced by English education authorities, schools and educationalists as a tool for learning. Part of the attraction of the Internet stems from its apparent ease of access to information. It is also a reflection and potential enabler of life-long learning, which can be seen as a feature of contemporary life. Usher and Edwards see that “The key to the pursuit of the new, middle-class and their post-modern sensibilities is the adoption of a learning mode towards life” (Usher and Edwards, 1994, p. 190). However, this statement contains some interesting provisos, not the least of which is the assumption that being middle-class is a precondition (or indeed a consequence) of learning. I will argue later how this is of particular relevance to Internet use in education. The fact that education is increasingly seen as a life-long process not restricted by the temporal or spatial constraints of the classroom is partially due to the online educational opportunities that are apparently offered by the Internet and the World Wide Web in particular. Certainly it should not be disputed that the Internet potentially provides access to unprecedented amounts of information. But information is not the same as learning. In fact, some writers have sounded notes of caution about the proliferation of information. 25 years ago Baudrillard warned that “We live in a world where there is more and more information and less and less meaning” (Baudrillard, 1981, p. 79). Since the popular advent of the Internet this is even more apparent. The increasing ability to access information raises several issues, not least the need to synthesize, analyse and critically evaluate content even before putting it to practical use. This means potentially increased power to the Internet user who possesses these skills. Lyotard can be seen as having predicted this in 1979 when he wrote that “The computerization of the most highly developed Page 3 of 14 Albin Wallace societies allows us to spotlight certain aspects of the transformation of knowledge and its effects on public power and civil institutions” (Lyotard, 1979, p. 7). Certainly, knowledge is increasingly seen as residing more in the public domain. But on the Internet it is less organised and more chaotic. To further illustrate its role in a post-modern society Butler describes how “The internet is at present a typically postmodernist phenomenon- it is (currently) a non-hierachized, indeed disorganised collage” (Butler, 2002, p. 117). Sellinger also sees that “The internet is a postmodern phenomenon…Unlike school, it has no history” (Sellinger, 2004, p. 149). Information itself is insufficient to create knowledge. This may be why educated use of the Internet through critical, analytical and creative skills assist to access, synthesize and effectively use much of the content of the Internet. To be included as an effective, learning user requires certain skills that are necessary to avoid exclusion in the world of the Internet and research. However, before discussing what exclusion is, it is worthwhile looking at what inclusion implies with respect to the Internet. Carver et al helpfully state that “a key criterion of inclusion is the ability to store information, experience and resources with key groups” (Carver et al, 1999, p. 2). The purpose for which this information, experience and resources can be used can also be put in a sociological context. Some writers see the Internet as presenting a challenge to values, in a similar way as television and other mass communications media may have been perceived previously. As Horrocks says, “The post-modern crisis is occurring not because technology threatens the values of humanism, but rather because technology has revealed the outcome to which these values must inevitably lead” (Horrocks, 1999, p. 30). There are also those who valorise the Internet as a tool of emancipation, sometimes too uncritically. “Technology reveals more specifically its strategic function in the context of educational practices ostensibly geared towards freedom, emancipation, liberation, as places where human beings can exercise freedom or, also, where they can develop into free and responsible adults and individuals” (Masschelein and Quaghebeur, 2005, p. 52). Somewhat utopian visions such as this run the risk of overlooking issues of ICT and inclusion, where I see it having potentially a darker side when viewed in the context of social inequality and exclusion. 


Having looked at Carver’s key criterion of inclusion, I will now turn to how exclusion can be defined and viewed. Oppenheim describes social exclusion in terms of isolation and alienation from economic, social, political and cultural life including increasing isolation from even informal networks of supports (Oppenheim, 1998). In terms of the Internet, there is a resonance especially with respect to online support networks. Walker and Park describe social exclusion in terms of the length of time that individuals and groups spend in poverty (Walker and Parks, 1998). The problem, however, with the phrase “social exclusion” is that it can applied to any situation if the word ‘social’ is omitted. My use of the term with respect to the use of the Internet is mindful of the multi-dimensional nature of deprivation (both physical and other, as discussed later). Hann also believes that there should be a close examination of the excluded groups themselves and their rights (Haan, 2001). At a fundamental level we can define exclusion as referring to a number of things: basic physical needs, employment, social contact, information, ability for selfimprovement, education and recreation. The latter of these can certainly be seen as being related to exclusion issues the Internet. However, to view the issue in perspective, exclusion in terms of the Internet is not as potentially disastrous in terms of social and economic impact as exclusion from other technological tools. Compaigne commented that “Having access to an automobile and to have a license to operate one was certainly more critical to one’s livelihood in the second half of the Page 4 of 14 Albin Wallace twentieth century as having access to email may be today” (Compaigne, 2001, p. 23). We need to contextualise the importance of the Internet and access to it whilst at the same time recognising that in the longer term there may be damaging effects as a result of exclusion from the forms of intellectual and social capital that access to the Internet facilitates, and the demands that education and the workplace place on individuals’ ability to access resources. Zetterman and Lindblad warn that “unemployment, immigration and the risk of social exclusion in a more marketoriented society may produce a new, educational underclass” (Zetterman and Lindblad, 2001, p. 3). Social alienation too can be seen as a possible social consequence of digital exclusion. Disability is also a potential source of inequality in this area. The social and personalised elements of Internet use are relevant here especially when “Current understanding of disability and special needs are constructed on the basis of a dualism between individual and social factors” (Terzi, 2005, p. 457). There has been some significant attempt by government to address issues of disadvantage in Internet use. There are website standards, and the English 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and Special Educational Needs Discrimination Act are laws that can influence web design. The Web Accessibility Initiative Standard (WAIS) and the accessibility function of Microsoft Windows © also can assist in reducing exclusion due to disability. The concerns here are not only the technical issues to be overcome but implied values in the provision of adaptive technology. Some authors use “normality” as the benchmark when discussing disability. MacKay, especially says that “Disability can disappear positively only when it is accepted completely as part of normality” (MacKay, 2002, p.162). It is implied, however, that “normality” is axiomatic. This could disempower those who are placed, or who place themselves outside the parameters of normality. It has been recently argued that “The contribution of [England’s] New Labour’s inclusive educational policy has been to forward a process of assimilation based upon an uncritical view of ‘normality’, itself structured by the values of performativity that legitimate state regulations and control” (Armstrong, 2005, p. 149). Especially with respect to Internet use in education there is a bias towards the middle-class as the embodiment of normality. As in the earlier discussion of lifelong learning and the Internet, education is placed in a middle-class context where there is a strengthening of traditional social power bases. In this way, use of the Internet in an educational context can be seen as not just middle-class but also subject to quite marked cultural bias, especially when one considers the global perspective. 


There is still evidence of digital exclusion in the USA, despite the dominating influence of American culture and language evident in the Internet. As well as this American bias, it can be seen that technologically developed countries such as the USA have a technological advantage. The language of the Internet is largely English-based and the USA has the highest absolute number and percentage of people online (Booz-Allen and Hamilton, 2000, p. 8).Yet digital exclusion exists here, too. “Internet non-users were more likely to be female, older, have lower income, have less education, be slightly disproportionately African-American, have no children, work full-time, send no emails and belong to fewer community organisations” (Rice and Katz, 2003, p. 607). Non-English speakers miss out on much of the information that is available on the Internet (Runnel and Vengerfeldt, 2002). Where there has been a localisation of the Internet, this has not always been in a free and liberalised way, for example in the recent launch of the Chinese version of the search engine Google © in a heavily Page 5 of 14 Albin Wallace censored form reflecting political and ethical power structures of China that could be seen as contrary to Western liberalism. Steyaert compares the tension between access to ICT and development support of the third world. He believes “[the] tension between policy on physical access or information literacy can be compared to development support for the third world” (Steyaert, 2002, p. 211). Dasgupta et al see no global inequality in terms of provision but make no comments on skills. They state that “we have investigated the determinants of the ‘digital divide’ between high and low-income countries. Surprisingly, we find there is no gap in Internet intensity” (Dasgupta, S. et al, 2000). Both these statements are so broad and value-laden that I am cautious about reading too much into either one. On a pragmatic level, Tyler argues that “the Internet potentially gives people in remote areas access to otherwise unobtainable resources and to easier communication with others in their community, thus reducing inequality” (Tyler, 2002, p.201). This may be so, but the existences of infrastructure and skill development are not prerequisites that can be so easily assumed. Some authors have, in my opinion quite rightly, made much of the westernised bias of the Internet, not just in terms of content, but in terms of language and ideas. In a somewhat idealised way, certain authors have made claims such as “the discourse of liberation theology aims to replace Eurocentric conceptions of both modernity and postmodernism with an indigenous, historical and cultural consciousness” (Appignanesi and Garnett, 1999, p. 163). But with the Internet, there is a sense, as discussed above, of the inevitability of its continued Americanisation. In this way the Internet culturally may not superficially differ from television, although the regionalisation of television stations is in contrast with the numinous, global presence of the Internet whose websites simultaneously exist everywhere and nowhere. Blake and Standish disagree with Dasgupta et al and argue in the context of the Internet that “in Africa and the rest of the developing world, patterns of inclusion and exclusion, empowerment and disempowerment have differed from those of Europe and North America” (Blake and Standish, 2000, p. 47). The arguments from both sides seem to be largely conjectural. With respect to the Internet on the global stage, there is also conflicting opinion as to racial inequality within countries. Early American research indicated racial inequalities in Internet use (Hoffman and Novak, 1998). They said that income explains computer ownership, education does not explain racial differences and income does not explain race differences. “White students are significantly more likely than African-American students to have used the web at home. Students with no home computer, regardless of race, have never used the web at home” (Hoffmann and Novak, 1998, p. 6). More recent British research shows this is not currently the case in Britain (Livingstone and Bober, 2005b). 


The ability to use digital technologies as well as conventional literacies is of increasing importance and relevance with respect to educational and social issues. “An argument could be made that the national curriculum holds little relevance for the complexities of life in the twenty-first century regardless of which class you belong to” (Reay, 2001, p. 343). Increasingly digital literacy is becoming more important as are the attendant innovations in terms of content and the mode of delivery as well as the accompanying skill development. Just as with other skill areas such as conventional literacy and numeracy there are different levels of use Page 6 of 14 Albin Wallace by different individuals and groups based partially on their skill and capability. Steyaert notes that “not everybody has the same efficiency and effectiveness in operating technology” (Steyaert, 2002, p. 208). In the use of the Internet there is not just the technical or operational skill to be considered but critical analysis and problem-solving skills necessary to make sense out of the content of the Internet and the search engines that are the primary tools for interrogation. Steyaert also notes that “not all citizens have the same level of information literacy: the ability and attitude to search for relevant information, translate that to one’s own situation and implement the necessary actions” (Steyaert, 2002, p. 208). Those with greater levels of skill in problem solving and metacognition will be further advantaged in terms of information retrieval. However, the Internet is also about communication as well as information. Literacy has a role here too “Websites create social networks that are related to and quite different from those produced through the circulation of bodies and texts in schools” (Leander and McKim, 2003, p.237) and this is increasingly evident in the “Web 2” which is largely characterised by weblogs, personalised web pages and other mechanisms for collaboration and sharing. With respect to the Internet and education, those who achieve may be enabled to achieve higher. The disaffected and disenfranchised are at risk of achieving less. As Weiner says, “web-based technologies and the pressure to engage with them, can be seen as part of a wider set of social and cultural practices, goals and power relations” (Weiner, 2004, p. 11). This raises the issue of further potential digital literacies that I have proposed later in this essay. The pressures that are brought about in the way Weiner describes come from a view of the Internet as being an enricher not just of education but of social power. Engagement can certainly be seen at different levels. Livingstone and Bober in their recent far-reaching Britishbased research conclude that “for some the Internet is an increasingly rich, diverse, engaging and stimulating resource of growing importance in their lives; for others it remains at present a narrow, unengaging if occasionally useful resource of rather less significance” (Livingstone and Bober, 2004a, p.414.) The role of the school is seen as crucial in addressing issues of equality or equity of access raised in this way. This of course is true in other areas. The same point could be made (and probably has been) about the use of television in the latter half of the twentieth century. The issue as to where the Internet is accessed is also important. Livingstone and Bober go on to make the point that “while access at home and elsewhere is rapidly increasing, there remains one quarter of the youth population that has access at school but not at home. This figure has not reduced significantly in recent years, making provision through school an important opportunity for redressing inequalities” (Livingstone and Bober, 2004b, p. 9). I will return to this point later. Concepts of digital literacy always relate back to educational issues. To assist in addressing access issues in ULT academies I have presumptuously extended my definition of literacy to include a number of concepts. With respect to the Internet this could include the following: • Basic operating literacy at the hardware level (how to connect to broadband and log in) and the operating systems level (how to use Windows © or Mac OS ©) • Communications literacy (ability to read and write for both synchronous and asynchronous communication) • Cultural literacy (understanding that there is a different cultural context for America, British, Australian etc. websites). • Critical literacy (ability to evaluate information, challenge opinion, treat appropriately websites where information is apocryphal, spurious or just plain wrong). Page 7 of 14 Albin Wallace • Analytical and synthetic literacy (ability to take ideas and extrapolate or incorporate into one’s own thinking). • Research literacy (understand search engines, key words, metadata, complex search strings, narrowing of search criteria). • Moral or ethical literacy (make value judgements on websites; deal with accidentally accessed inappropriate material). The above takes for granted certain characteristics of Internet users that include the social and educational factors that may facilitate the above (Foley, 2000). 


To return to the nature of inequality it is worth noting that which is helpful and that which is less helpful. The commonly used phrase “digital divide” is misleading. When speaking of digital inequality I would argue that it does not exist in this form. Rather than there being a digital divide, there is more accurately a continuum of equality of access (in all senses). The ‘digital divide’ is an artificial binary, implying there are two groups. The assumption is that having access is better than not, and that the internet is such an essential part of life that no-one should be excluded. This could also imply that everyone has a right to access. Ironically, it has been suggested that “This can lead to a situation where, for example, the state of homelessness remains unquestioned as long as the individual has guaranteed access to public Internet stations” (Langer, 2004, p. 4). In an extreme form this can lead to the assumption that the right to information gets higher priority than the right not to starve. Although, as discussed earlier, the long-term ramification of lack of access could be serious, it can clearly be seen that access to the Internet is not of the same immediate importance as access to food and shelter. The term ‘digital divide’ implies an obvious poverty that is misleading. Access is not just about provision of tangible equipment; it is about access to intellectual as well as technical skills and capabilities. As Hargittai says, “there is great discrepancy between what is physically available on the Web and what information is realistically accessible to others” (Hargittai, 2003, p. 17). This discrepancy is influenced by cultural, social and educational as well as economic factors. Helpfully, Hargittai says that the conversation should continue, as “a more comprehensive understanding of digital inequality is necessary if we are to avoid increasing inequalities among different segments of the population due to disparities in effective access to all that the Internet has to offer” (Hargittai, 2003, p. 20). I agree and believe that digital equality is about more than just providing equipment. It is also about the development of autonomy, skills, support and scope of use amongst people already online as well as those currently excluded from physical access. Use of the Internet does not automatically imply powerful educational use. Hargittai wryly observes that “The Internet prophets who foresaw that the web would empower citizens, increase social capital and enhance equality of opportunity probably did not have gambling or pornography sites in mind when they made these predictions” (Dimaggio and Hargittai, 2001, p. 11). Ironically, in this way increased Internet usage can financially and morally disadvantage as well as facilitate. Also, far from levelling the playing field, the Internet can create hierarchies where “electronic systems simultaneously reflect and transform existing topographies of class, gender and ethnicity, creating and recreating hierarchies of places mirrored in the partial architecture of computer networks” (Warf, 2001, p.16). The flow of power may also be differently enabled by the Internet where new power structures emerge. Heng argues that “while the Internet serves as an interesting example of unintended consequences of social action, it also supports the postmodernist position that Page 8 of 14 Albin Wallace power does not flow from a single power centre to all peripheral points; rather it flows from the peripheries in capillary forms” (Heng, 1998, p. 6). This may not necessarily be a democratising force. There are also factors outside the Internet that may affect exclusion. As with other forms of exclusion, exclusion from the Internet can be the result of financial impoverishment. Livingstone and Bober see that “the clear association between socio-economic status and indication of access and use suggests that the social and economic sources of exclusion require concerted attention if the benefits of the Internet are to be fairly spread” (Livingstone and Bober, 2005, p. 13). 


I will now turn to discussions on the causes of exclusion. Jahnukainen has seen that “living in a world of computers and Internet, one might be accused of being socially excluded for not having an email address.” (Jahnukainen, p.1) The symbolic nature of this observation is important, when an email address is considered as a status symbol, or emblem of belonging. From being the earlier exclusive domain of the professional, email is now an embedded part of many people’s social identity and the email address itself sends signals about who one is. Livingstone and Bober (2005b) have many interesting things to say about exclusion. Their recent research shows that in the UK most children and young people have access to the Internet but the oldest and the youngest have lowest levels of access. They show that non-daily users take up fewer online opportunities and that there are few gender differences but given access, boys are more likely to use Internet and to use it for longer. Boys also take more online risks. Daily users of the Internet use it more for social networking and middle-class children are more likely to use the Internet due to greater skill levels and more self-efficacy. Although access and use is different in different geographical areas there is no noticeable difference in ethnic use. Disability is associated with lower levels of access, but not use where ICT is available. Certain groups in the UK, who although once were users are now excluded from the Internet, are voluntary middle-class drop-outs (self-exclusion) and involuntary dropouts who are excluded due to lack of access. Livingstone and Bober see that age, gender and socio-economic status all influence quality of access and use. They also agree that the “digital divide” label is an unhelpful binary as there is a continuum from narrow, unskilled use to diverse, skilled use. Specifically with respect to children, parents with high Internet self-efficacy are more likely to have children who are good users. This is not to imply that the digitally excluded are a static group. There are changing conditions of digital exclusion although inequalities are likely to grow along with a variation in quality of use. Access issues are complex and it is worthy noting that the Internet is easier for the middle-class to use as there is more choice for location with greater incentive to use it confidentially and in a private rather than public place. Again Livingstone and Bober see that technical and intellectual skills and subtle complexities sit at the heart of the matter many of which lie outside of the control of the user. An example of this is where “a significant minority of young people lack access to the Internet altogether because their families are unable or unwilling to provide it “ (Livingstone, 2003, p. 155). But it is not simply a case of addressing this by the provision of public funds. Livingstone elsewhere argues that “providing domestic access to ICT may actually increase rather than decrease inequalities in class, gender and ethnicity precisely because of inequalities in the nature of ICT Page 9 of 14 Albin Wallace use” (Livingstone, 2003, p. 154). Those already empowered may be even further empowered by increased domestic access and the continuum of inequality of use could be further stretched. The previously discussed potential enslavement by online gambling, pornography etc. must also be borne in mind. This is not to denigrate the different motivations for using the Internet, although “some of the digital divide (sic) may be due to differences in interests and priorities among individuals in the same ethnic and socioeconomic group” (Rice and Katz, 2003, p. 600). Education and the pursuit of knowledge and competencies may be only of interest to those already motivated and for whom education is a high priority. Internet use may reflect existing practices and interests rather than automatically becoming a tool for transforming practice. 


Experience with the Internet, if negative can lead to a choice to effectively selfexclude from digital use. In this way, Internet use can be seen as being related to social inclusion. Dutton argues that the social implications are to reconfigure access by providing diversified models in public and private spaces (Dutton, 2004). There are certain suggested strategies for minimising exclusion that include the creation of conditions that improve equipment, education and resources, skills and support as well as changing the ‘not for me’ attitude (Doherty et al, 2003). “The provision of physical access by itself, however cheap it may be, is only the first step in overcoming digital exclusion. To take part in the Information Society it is necessary to have the skills and the confidence to go online and a reason and motivation to make the effort” (Ferlander and Timms, 2004, p.9). This reemphasises the important role that education plays in refining Internet use amongst children and at face value would seem to imply that the provision of Internet access in school is important. Although it is highly desirable to provide access from school, some authors argue that for real inclusion “access means access from home” (Tambini, 2000, p. 21). Of course, financial differences limit the quality of internet access for children, but inequality in cultural capital (i.e. internet literacy, or the ability to use Internet constructively) may also be an inhibiting factor. Inequality in social capital (social support in using the Internet) can be a factor too although this could be more subtle than is first apparent. For instance, in ULT academies there is often a high desire of ethnic minorities and some single-parent families to provide access to the Internet as part of an ambition to succeed and busy middle-class children often use the Internet at a superficial level (i.e. for entertainment). However it is widely agreed that amongst the inhibiting factors are finances, education, parental ICT skills, community support, parents’ attitudes and the nature of the informal learning environment at home. On the issue of physical access, Livingstone and Bovill see that “the more Internet access at home comes to be taken for granted by society, the more inadequate levels of access will serve to exclude some children and their families (Livingstone and Bovill, 2001, p. 22). As well as social and cultural capital, financial capital still is a major factor. As Tyler bluntly puts it, “if people must buy computers and pay for Internet access, then those who are initially advantaged are able to gain further advantage” (Tyler, 2002, p. 201). This is consistent with Livingstone and Bober’s view that “providing domestic access to ICT may increase rather than decrease inequalities” (Livingstone and Bober, 2003, p. 28) although it appears at odds with Page 10 of 14 Albin Wallace Tambini’s view. There is apparently still considerable scope for research in this matter. 


Access to the Internet can be seen as a way of transferring power to the learner but it can also be used as means of achieving apparent productivity gains in education. Young sees further warning signals when he states that “the software and the communications companies behind the Internet…see the access model as generating a lucrative, new market for their products, and governments, for whom the access model appears as a way of cutting the costs of public education and of weakening what some see as the sectional power of professional or personal interests” (Young, 1998, p. 148). In terms of access and exclusion, some writer’s have seen the power lying firmly with the developers. Sassower states that “with the stroke of a pen someone like Microsoft’s Gates can turn a thriving technological component of a research programme into obsolescence” (Sassower, 1995, p. 120). To extend this argument it can be seen that in order to access the richness of the Internet, the user needs the software; multi-media enabled with sound, video and graphics. The software drives the content that is delivered on the Internet to a certain extent and many websites assume an increasing level of sophistication in the client system (browser, operating system and hardware specification). This is a practical consideration where the user must constantly ensure they have the appropriate systems to access the online material. This comes at a considerable recurrent financial cost. But it is not enough to provide the ICT and even just the technical skills. It is also important to consider how it is introduced in the educational context, including how to promote the use of technology that relates to a social context and peer group culture, including email and other collaborative online activities. Valentine says that “the fact that technologies, identities and peer-group relations transform and are transformed by each other might be regarded by children as offering a range of positive possibilities, rather than presenting a threat to their identities” (Valantine, 2002, p. 312). The issues discussed and illustrated in this paper have profound implications for the United Learning Trust academies programme. We must address the issue of physical access, perhaps looking at extended school hours, whilst acknowledging that patterns of usage may be different in public (school) and private (home) spaces. Our curriculum must include the tools for accessing information, including skills for identifying problems, finding resources, critically examining and analysing, synthesising ideas and making sound value judgements. There needs to be further development of the discussed literacies including metacognitive skills, technical skills and the evaluation of ideas and opinions. Again, on a practical level, advantage must be taken of converging technologies including television, telephony, cable and satellite communications and entertainment, the Internet. This may mean that physical access becomes less important than intellectual, social and academic skills and access. Many of the issues regarding children, the Internet and exclusion are centred on economic, educational, cultural and social factors. As well as providing physical access and tools as well as technical skills, we must be increasingly focussed on the higher level skills and literacies that will allow the children in our academies to use the Internet as a rich media resource, a tool with which to think and a gateway that they can use intelligently, discerningly and critically. By putting the child at the heart Page 11 of 14 Albin Wallace of the Internet experience rather than the equipment or the software, perhaps we can address in some the inequalities discussed in this essay. 


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