Teachers urged to get to grips with Facebook era

11th September 2009 at 01:00
Profession must be better placed to alert pupils to dangers posed by social-networking sites

Teachers should learn about social-networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace to make pupils aware of the risks they pose, a top Welsh academic said this week.

Professor Ken Reid, a behaviour expert and deputy vice-chancellor of Swansea Metropolitan University, said education policymakers must "think seriously" about the implications of using such sites for child protection issues and the wellbeing of the profession.

Writing exclusively in this week's TES Cymru, Professor Reid, who chaired the groundbreaking National Behaviour and Attendance Review for the Assembly government, called for a national debate on the use of social- networking websites in schools, which he said can pose "real problems" for teachers.

"New technology and the fast-developing, multi-choice social-networking sites have blurred the distinction between `in-school' and `out-of-school' issues, just as mobile phone usage and text messaging has led to an increase in bullying and harassment within and outside the school gates," he said.

"It is crucial that both teachers and administrators start by learning about the array of available social networking sites for children and young people to use."

A survey by communications regulator Ofcom last year found that 49 per cent of children aged eight to 17 in the UK have an online social- networking profile.

A number of high-profile figures have recently warned of the dangers of social networking websites.

Dr Himanshu Tyagi, a leading psychiatrist, said last year that children growing up with these sites may have a "potentially dangerous" view of the world and place less emphasis on their real lives.

And in July, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the social-networking sites undermine community life and lead young people to seek "transient" friendships.

Professor Reid said that while he did not want to see further censorship imposed, there was a need to educate children about the risks and advantages of using the internet.

"Specifically, schools need to educate pupils about the appropriate risks of using both social networking sites and the internet - not only for issues of personal safety and privacy, but also for reasons connected with good citizenship, plagiarism, the reliability of information and inappropriate behaviour.

"These debates need to involve parents, a review of school policies and, in certain cases, the police and possibly social services."

The Welsh-medium teaching union UCAC recently called for every school to have a "clear and robust" policy for the use of e-technology to protect both pupils and teachers.

Elaine Edwards, the union's general secretary, said: "We have found over the past few years that schools and teachers do need guidance on the safe use of e-technology.

"We have seen the way it can be abused. Schools need to be helped to ensure children are taught safe and responsible use so they understand the dangers and responsibilities.

"The same goes for teachers . Technology is moving ahead so quickly it's very difficult for teachers to keep in touch with what their pupils know. I think it's a pity DCELLS haven't produced a guidance document."

But Ms Edwards said that parents also need to take more responsibility for teaching their children about the dangers of using the internet as many schools are already delivering a growing amount of personal and social education.

A spokeswoman for the Assembly government said: "The government recognises the contribution technology makes to teaching and learning and encourages schools to promote innovative, positive and safe use of the internet.

"Whilst teachers and parents have an important role in encouraging young people to use technology in a responsible and safe way, the government is currently working with the UK Council for Child Internet Safety on the development of an e-safety strategy."

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