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Evading prying eyes, developing a life-skill

PUPILS who sneakily visit naughty websites or play computer games during lessons might seem like disruptive pests.

But new research suggests these pupils are actually developing complex "counter-surveillance" skills which could prove valuable in the work place or in politics.

Dr Andrew Hope, a lecturer in social policy at the University of Sunderland, has been analysing how pupils break computer-use rules behind their teachers' backs.

Evasion methods spotted at the eight primary and secondary schools visited ranged from the low-tech turning their monitors to face the wall to more high-tech solutions.

Some had mastered the art of "minimising" web-pages or hiding games behind work documents whenever a teacher approached.

A geography teacher interviewed by Dr Hope said: "They are so quick.

They're clicking off the screen as you go past. You know they have got everything sussed."

Several pupils were caught visiting illicit sites including porn ones and Poo III, which features verse and pictures dedicated to defecation.

Some picked dubious sites with innocent names so teachers would not spot them on the computer's records, or logged on using others' passwords. One Year 10 pupil claimed to know the passwords of 50 students and showed that he could work them out by watching their fingers as they typed.

In a paper Dr Hope will deliver to the annual British Sociological Association conference this weekend he writes: "In some bizarre manner, the interaction between staff and students had many of the qualities of the games that are played online, requiring alertness and speed of response," he writes.

"The skills students are developing in response to surveillance of internet activities may facilitate success in employment, social and political life."

"Panopticism, Play and Resistance to Surveillance" is available from andrew.hope@sunderland.ac.uk

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