Wise up to the dangers online

6th June 2008 at 01:00
Trainees 'can't afford to be technophobic'
Trainees 'can't afford to be technophobic'

Trainee teachers must keep up-to-date with cutting edge technology not only to protect pupils from cyber-abuse, but also to inspire the computer generation.

Dr Sangeet Bhullar, director of internet safety charity Wise Kids, spoke of the potential pitfalls of technophobic teachers last week at a conference in Newport. It highlighted the pastoral skills newly qualified teachers will need to manage classrooms and children.

She said e-learning was the way to engage young people brought up on a diet of computer games.

But Dr Bhullar also claimed schools and teachers were not doing enough to ensure the internet was being used safely.

Children can now access it almost anywhere. They can easily surf the web at school using mobile phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). By connecting to wireless "hotspots" they can view websites cheaply and easily.

Dr Bhullar told the trainee teachers on postgraduate certificate in education courses: "A lot of schools have anti-bullying policies that do not include guidelines for cyber-bullying."

A recent survey by communications watchdog Ofcom found almost half of eight to 17-year-olds have a personal profile on the internet, giving out information on their name, age, address and school, as well as a photograph.

Four years ago, children had about 80 online contacts but now they have on average 200.

"Young people don't think about whether their profile is private or public. If adults don't think about these things, you can rest assured kids don't," said Dr Bhullar.

Teachers and pupils should also keep copies of online conversations, she said. "It's important to keep logs. It is evidence in case of harassment and bullying, particularly with cyber-bullying."

TES Cymru (April 11) reported how too many pupils in Wales are downloading pornography and violent images online.

A major report on the use of ICT in Wales's schools called for national guidance on net safety, as well as school-led mentoring and awareness sessions for young people and their families after an investigation.

It also said teachers should be well-versed on technology during their initial training.

But the strategists behind the document also believe schools must tap into the rise of social networking sites, such as Bebo and MySpace, to improve teaching and engage the disaffected.

Dr Bhullar praised teachers who are holding lessons online. Many more are using 3D games or virtual classrooms, such as Moodle.

"A lot of teachers are also using blogs for reflective learning. If you were doing a group project, a blog is a collaborative place for kids to interact," she said.

Blogs can be made private so only the teacher and children can see and add to it. "It's instant, so kids like it and they're creating a record of their learning."

LESSONS IN WELLBEING

Pupils' health, welfare and wellbeing were the subjects of a two-day conference for trainee teachers. Students took part in workshops on drug and sex education, anti-bullying and additional learning needs.

They also heard about the roles of youth assembly, Funky Dragon, and the Children's Commissioner for Wales.

Postgraduate certificate in education programme leader Theresa Benjamin said it was crucial that trainees were prepared for pastoral roles as subject teachers and form tutors.

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