Approach to high-tech will need rebooting

31st August 2012 at 01:00

There's a striking irony in this week's TESS. In News Focus, our survey of local authorities reveals frustrating policies preventing teachers and pupils from accessing mobile and social media in school (pages 12-15). In the main feature, primary children have set up their own website and workshops on cyberbullying to train pupils and teachers in the dangers inherent in some of the latest technologies (pages 18-21).

Safety is the common thread, but the approaches are totally at odds. One is about clamping down on access to a vast array of exciting new teaching and learning aids, from iPhones and wi-fi to YouTube and Facebook, supposedly to protect children; the other is about the children - instinctive masters of the high tech - teaching young and old to protect themselves through familiarity and experience.

The P7 pupils at Gallowhill Primary in Paisley won a national award from the Social Enterprise Academy for their initiative, drive and commitment to doing good. They had done surveys of who was bullied, what websites they had been on and which ones to beware of. They ran presentations on cyberbullying and workshops on safe surfing. Now they want to set up workshops for parents, a resource pack for teachers, and services for other schools.

Not only are these children teaching staff about IT issues which are second nature to the young, but the staff are "facilitating pupils to do all they can", as headteacher Sheila Hood puts it.

It's a liberating experience all round, and one that could be replicated across the country, but too often pupils are held back by the adults' caution. Sixth-year pupil Amy McShane writes of the frustration she faces in her Advanced Higher modern studies class, where many of the websites she requires are blocked by filters (page 15). The same applies in art, product design and music. She has to wait until she gets home to access sites.

It's not only pupils who are frustrated; it's their teachers too, as many are denied some of the best tools for their job. Fife teacher Gareth Surgey describes it as "educational apartheid", where the haves and have- nots are created by local authorities' IT policies.

When education secretary Michael Russell put the brakes on planned developments of the Glow intranet for schools last year, and wanted to open up access to the latest social media, many - though not all - welcomed a fresh approach. Our News Focus reveals just how complex the issue is, from questions of security to bandwidth.

His ICT excellence group has until December to make its recommendations on how much freedom teachers and pupils should be given. In the meantime, they can glimpse some of the "GlowPlus" plans already in motion, at next month's Scottish Learning Festival in Glasgow.

Gillian Macdonald, Editor of the year (business and professional). gillian.macdonald@tess.co.uk.

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