Take a lesson from the 'digital natives'

3rd October 2008 at 01:00
Teachers need to learn about technology from the generation sitting in front of them in class, says minister

Teachers should actively seek to learn lessons about technology from their pupils rather than the other way round, schools minister Jim Knight said last week.

Mr Knight, who was speaking at a debate on whether it was harder for teachers to remain in charge in the classroom because of the rise of technology, said they could never hope to compete with understanding "digital natives".

He said: "Teachers must always be in charge and the masters of their subject. But if they are going to benefit from technology, they need to learn from young people themselves about how to use it.

"There is no doubt that digitally native people who are born into this technology will always use it differently and more comprehensively than those who are adapting."

But Cary Bazalgette, a media literacy consultant, told Mr Knight she was shocked by his comments. She said the assumption that children knew all about technology was misplaced. "There is an awful lot that many children don't know," she said.

The debate, a fringe meeting at the Labour party conference, also heard that future generations of teachers would be particularly vulnerable to cyber bullying because their lives would have been documented on social networking sites.

The meeting, also held to publicise new internet safety resources for schools - developed by 14 of the world's biggest technology companies - came as the UK Council on Child Internet Safety was launched at a separate event in London.

The council will unite more than 100 private and public sector organisations and report directly to the Prime Minister.

It aims to help improve the regulation and education around internet use, tackle online bullying, introduce safer search features and control violent video games.

The National Association of Head Teachers wants more support developed to help school staff to protect themselves against technological abuse.

Lesley Gannon, assistant secretary, said: "We need to start planning for the next generation of teachers. They will come into the workplace with most of their lives documented - their thoughts, feelings and all of their parties from when they were early teenagers - on the web where future pupils will be able to access and download it."

She said that when teachers had defamatory material about themselves posted on the internet, it was often difficult to have it taken down, particularly if the website was outside European Union jurisdiction.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, said mobile phones were now often the source of material posted on the net and had become "the weapon of choice" for bullies.

"Those who at one time had to content themselves with bullying victims face to face have now got these increasingly sophisticated tools at their disposal," she said.

"They can use camera phones to distribute videos or pictures in the school community. Parents can find that a mobile they gave to their child for safety reasons is actually used to abuse and harass that child."

Ms Keates said pupils also used the technology to make malicious allegations against teachers and to insult and humiliate them.

Mobile phones in the classroom should be treated in the same way as offensive weapons, she said.

"There is no need for children to access telephones during school sessions. Plenty of schools have made arrangements for how they keep hold of phones during the day."


A new website developed by the world's corporate digital giants will give teachers a one-stop-shop for information on everything from cyber-bullying to searching the internet and online safety.

UK teaching unions are helping 14 companies, including Google, Vodafone, Facebook, MySpace, AOL and Microsoft, to develop www.teachtoday.eu

The Europe-wide website, aimed at schools, will not be launched officially in this country until the spring, but it already offers some government guidance on internet safety.

Lesley Gannon, assistant secretary at the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We think this is useful because it offers lots of information in one place," she said. "One of the problems with guidance is that it is scattered."

Annie Mullins, Vodafone's global head of content and standards, said: "Technology in children's hands is problematic. They are using it to abuse teachers, bully and harass them."

She said there was still tension between the companies involved in the teachtoday site and the teaching unions, but there was more to be gained through partnership than having battles over who was right and wrong.


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