ICT diary

6th April 2001 at 01:00
While concerns surrounding the safety of the internet have not quite reached the pitch of panic sustained by the video nasty scare in the Eighties, it's an issue that rumbles on. Chatrooms are regarded as potentially dangerous environments for older children; inappropriate online content and the identification of children are other key concerns.

The latest guidance from the Department for Education and the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (Becta) advises schools to use whole-class rather than individual email addresses for external communications. It is hoped this will help to maintain the anonymity of individual pupils and enable teachers to keep a closer eye on what's in the mailbox.

Use of photographs, identifying safe chatrooms and filtering systems are also covered on the site at http:safety.ngfl.gov.uk.

The DfEE has also launched the Grid Club, an online learning environment aimed at seven to 11-year-olds. As well as interactive curriculum materials, Grid Club provides mediated chat areas.

Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS) has launched the Safer Use of Services on the Internet project. There are plans to provide both printed and online advice and guidance for teachers and parents. Keep an eye on the LTS website at www.ltscotland.com in mid-August for further details.

Sometimes, though, despite everyone's best intentions, children find a way to circumvent the barriers that adults impose. The canny ones even manage to profit from it.

At a north-west ondon primary a Year 3 pupil set up shop in the playground selling laminated cards bearing characters from Dragon Ball Z, a current Japanese anime favourite. At 50p a pop, business was brisk until an observant fellow pupil brought his business empire to a swift close - among the innocent characters he spotted images of cartoon porn.

After interrogation, the unwitting junior pornographer admitted that he had downloaded the images from his computer at home. Unfortunately, the young entrepreneur hadn't taken all of his pictures from the official Dragon Ball Z site at www.dragonballz.com; some were downloaded from one of those "unofficial" sites that do dubious things with cartoon characters.

The one good thing to come out of all this is the fact that, had he tried to do the same thing at school, the LEA's filtering software would have blocked access to all Dragon Ball Z sites as it does with most other cartoon sites.

So the message of internet security has largely been heard in schools. But to really have any effect, Becta, the DfEE and other organisations need to get the message through to parents. Many are still unsure of the options open to them when it comes to limiting their children's access to the internet. Putting the family computer in the kitchen or the front room seems to be the most common advice. But who'll be paying attention to their sneaky 12-year-old when they're busy trying to work out who shot Phil Mitchell in EastEnders?



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