ICT group pushes for change on internet filters

30th November 2012 at 00:00
Proposals are likely to please teachers frustrated by current restrictions

The idiosyncrasies of local internet-filtering policies should be cast aside in favour of a liberal Scotland-wide approach - based on the presumption that all web pages are accessible.

The proposal, which marks a radical departure from existing practice, is spelled out in a discussion paper by Scotland's ICT Excellence Group. A number of its messages are likely to please teachers frustrated by current restrictions.

The changes would largely be achieved through a new version of national schools intranet Glow, which has faced criticism in the past for being cumbersome and detached from new technology.

"We need Glow Plus to fully harness the power of technology for learning, keep pace with rapidly evolving developments and speak the language of young people," said group chair Muffy Calder, who is the government's chief scientific adviser.

The heavy-handed and inconsistent web-filtering policies highlighted in a TESS survey (31 August) should be ditched for a national policy applied consistently by all local authorities, the paper proposes.

It states: "This should be a liberal policy in the sense that the norm should be that all websites and services are accessible unless the policy states that some sites (such as porn) should be explicitly blocked. Teachers must have a role in the setting and review of the filtering policy."

The paper also calls for a Scotland-wide policy on sharing of teaching materials, allowing them "to be freely shared. without the need for LA approval".

Two "fundamental notions" have driven discussions: that teachers should be trusted to use their professional judgement around how ICT is used; and that the system should be "future-proof" - enhanced, not left behind, by new technology.

The system should "not force on users a fixed set of services and content" and "it will be simple to incorporate new web-based applications as these become available", although a basic set of services should exist to encourage teachers without detailed ICT knowledge.

The range of ways now used to explore the internet is acknowledged, with the paper favouring a system that is "device-agnostic" and accessible from anywhere at anytime. It predicts that, within the school life of many of today's pupils, the use of desktop and laptop computers will become the exception rather than the rule.

Teachers and pupils should be able to use sites such as WordPress, Edmodo, YouTube and Outlook, and to "bring in other tools and services that they need to support specific learning needs".

One online commenter, James McEnaney, said: "This looks great, but does anybody really think we'll ever get to the stage where local authorities and national government relinquish their power and let us keep such a system up to date?"

Another, Pam Currie, said: "This is exactly what is required and it is required right now. Can we please stay away from lengthy piloting and just get this done?"


`Victorian' system

Education directors' frustration around ICT emerged during a workshop at last week's annual conference of ADES, their representative body.

There was talk of "a Victorian school system overlaid with technology" - but also speculation that looming financial pressure on local authorities might be a catalyst to break down old systems and free up ICT.

A number of directors stressed their support for giving schools more freedom to use technology, and bemoaned "completely risk-averse" corporate ICT.

There was frustration at the lack of joint procurement procedures across Scotland to drive down ICT costs, and concern that providing connectivity of the same quality throughout Scotland would cost "a fortune".

On new mobile technology, some directors were wary of people being "seduced by the bright and shiny" with little thought as to whether it improved learning.

Photo credit: Getty

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