Fix web filtering or any Glow replacement will fail to shine

25th January 2013 at 00:00
When a pupil's smartphone outstrips the usefulness and power of a school computer, it's time to make changes

It's probably a given in this day and age that the internet is an integral part of learning. The resources, discussions, communication and creativity are evolving to heights undreamt of as recently as even five years ago.

Teachers can use the web to bring the best and worst of the world into their classrooms, and part of our ICT excellence group remit is to harness these powerful leaning sources in the next iteration of the national intranet, Glow, when the current contract finishes in December.

My discussions with teachers around the country during school visits and online have convinced me of the groundswell that now exists across Scotland for better and faster internet access. We currently appear, however, to exist in a society that lives in fear of this very same internet, so powerful as a learning tool and yet with a reputation, probably undeserved, as menacing to the online safety of the children we teach.

As a result, our schools have to survive on an internet so choked off by content filtering that teachers give up in frustration as they are blocked from using the sites and tools they choose to enhance their classroom learning and teaching.

The issue of filtering is crucial to the success or failure of any Glow replacement we get. We need an agile design and management set-up that builds the new Glow up incrementally and can react quickly to developments in online activity.

What's the use of this brave new world wide web if it's filtered out of existence at school level, largely by corporate IT departments unused to the needs of education? I would suggest now may be the time for a national filtering policy or set of guidelines for all local authorities to ensure full access by schools to the fantastic web-based learning tools in the new Glow and elsewhere.

At a time when the 3G technology in a pupil's pocket usually outstrips the power of a school device, filtering is an anachronism. Would parents be so quick to complain about inappropriate use on a school device if the school countered by pointing out the same child's ability to access the same inappropriate content on their parentally-provided smartphone?

Surely our duty of care is not to restrict, but to teach responsible use of the internet? And surely a school or local authority has a duty to its learners to trust its professional teachers to use the internet as they see fit and remove the stranglehold on learning that filtering imposes?

Jaye Richards-Hill is a former learning community principal teacher and a member of the Scottish government's ICT Excellence Group.

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