After hearing the range of discussion sparked by Anti-Bullying Week last week, I was particularly struck by the Duke of Cambridge’s passionate speech at the BBC Broadcasting House in London where he called on tech giants such as Facebook and Google to do more to tackle the growing problem of cyberbullying. He raises an important point: no-one should duck their responsibilities on this issue.
One thing is certain, we need solutions urgently. Studies show bullying is a major risk factor for serious and long-term mental health problems in children that can last into adulthood, and although in-person bullying has lessened over the last decade, cyberbullying is on the rise. The figures are alarming. In the UK, incidents of cyberbullying have grown 37% year-on-year according to a report from internet safety company Smoothwall, and one recent study by international anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found that 17% of British children have been victims. Elsewhere in the world, the picture is very similar. For example, a new Pew Research Center survey found that 59% of U.S. teens have personally experienced at least one of six types of abusive online behaviours.
While in-person bullying can often be effectively tackled within school premises, cyberbullying is more pervasive – victims can be targeted anywhere, at any time, and can feel like there’s no escape from the abuse. Cyberbullying, therefore, presents a different challenge that involves stakeholders across not only education, but wider society as well, not least tech giants and social media companies. Are they doing enough to help? Most agree with the Duke of Cambridge’s view. In the Ditch the Label survey, 70% of teenagers thought that social media companies do too little to prevent bullying, and, according to the Smoothwall report, 77% of teachers thought the same. Just as UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently called on large tech companies to do more to drive a technological revolution in education, so to do they need to take more responsibility for the products that they produce for young people.
But the answer isn’t so clear-cut. The problem of cyberbullying isn’t so far removed from the complex debates currently raging around hate speech and free speech, trolling and fake news that take place on the social media sites we use. For example, the Canadian province of Nova Scotia recently introduced an anti-cyberbullying bill after a high-profile teenage suicide, but the law was later removed by the courts for violating free speech, demonstrating the difficulty in using legislation to curb the problem. We’re still grappling with our relationship to the new hyper-connected communication media available to us, and what it means to use these responsibly.
This ability to use technology and media in safe, responsible and effective ways – often termed digital citizenship – is a vital competency for the 21st century, though we’re still some way from seeing the topic introduced into national curricula. So far, non-profits are taking up the task. Common Sense Education, for example, offers a free K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum that has cyberbullying as one of six core curriculum topics, with over 500,000 teachers now using this resource worldwide. Meanwhile, The DQ Institute, an international think tank that provides solutions and policy recommendations to help nations build ethical digital ecosystems, have created a Digital Intelligence Quotient, or DQ number. Derived from eight core digital citizenship competencies – digital safety and cyberbullying management one of them – the DQ number aims to set an international standard of digital citizenship, and I believe this level of global integration and awareness is needed if cyberbullying is to be tackled effectively.
Both teachers and parents share the same concerns about online safety. This year, a back-to-school campaign launched by UK non-profit Internet Matters revealed that 73% of Year 7 parents were anxious about their child’s ability to manage online relationships, and 80% were concerned about cyberbullying. But schools and teachers often feel ill-equipped to deal with the problem: the Smoothwall study found that 62% of teachers do not believe they are fully supported to tackle the issue, and 84% believe the government should be doing more to help train them.
Clearly, there’s no easy answer to the growing problem of cyberbullying, the responsibility falls on many shoulders. Certainly, banning social media or certain apps doesn’t work – that would be like trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Instead, we need a coordinated response from those across education, government and industry. Tech companies should be looking to collectively commit to tackling the problem and agree on industry standards of what constitutes abusive content. We need to advance the digital citizenship agenda so that both adults and children learn the digital skills necessary to navigate internet safely. And, as part of this, the government must listen to schools and teachers who call for more training and resources on how to teach students to be more responsible digital citizens, as well as consider introducing more online safety-related material into the curriculum.
But for any measures to be effective, different stakeholders mustn’t just point fingers of blame at each other but rather approach the problem of cyberbullying from the same angle. Parents, educators, governments, tech companies, and of course students themselves must reach a common understanding. It’s a challenging project, and the only way forward is to foster communication and cooperation between groups who may not ordinarily find themselves talking to each other. Most importantly, this could scar another generation of children who are on the cusp of owning their first smartphone. But this is a defining moment for social media companies too. The daily attacks from fake news to foreign interference in elections could become a genuine existential threat. But it is cyberbullying, a threat every parent understands, that could evaporate the fragile consent the public lend to social media companies.
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When it comes to bringing together a school community through data-harmony, there can be a lot of hassle involved. As Tina Holmes, deputy safeguarding officer at Woodhouse West Primary School in Sheffield, discusses: “Admin for safeguarding and pastoral support can be an enormous challenge, especially regarding transition.”
GDPR is coming and schools need to be clear on what it means for them, as well as how to handle it ahead of when the regulations come into force on 25th May 2018. Currently, it seems that confusion reigns over what schools actually need to be doing to ensure they can comply with the new GDPR regulations – not just by that date, but sustainably thereafter.
With the deadline to be compliant with the new General Data Protection Legislation (GDPR) just around the corner, schools are scrambling to get prepared. Whilst the GDPR does represent a change from the Data Protection Act, achieving compliance may be simpler than you realise. Groupcall, in association with GDPRiS, has put together a short guide for schools to follow – it’s divided into 12 manageable steps to walk you through the list of tasks needing to be addressed.
1. Communication: It is important to keep those involved in the loop. Not everyone needs to be involved every time, but it is important to ensure that those who need the information have something which is current and accessible. The person who raised the initial concern may not need to see actions and future communications, but they should receive closure of some kind. Perhaps a simple email or note, with ‘Thank you for raising this concern, it has been passed on to the safeguarding team and they will be in touch if any further information is required.’
E-safety charity Childnet have launched Trust Me, a new, free resource designed to support Primary and Secondary school teachers in exploring critical thinking online. Developed in partnership with the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) Safeguarding Board to address the emerging area of online extremism and propaganda, the practical resource aims to provoke discussion among students so as to challenge young people to think critically about what they see online.
In my previous article for Innovate My School, I talked enthusiastically about the huge benefits that technology such as cloud computing can bring to schools, provided that it’s used effectively to meet real and measurable needs. From a budgetary standpoint, schools can achieve better value for money and improved functionality through tools like virtual learning environments. Innovative pedagogical models such as the flipped classroom are improving teaching and learning even from Primary age. It’s a brave new world for technology in schools, and I’m delighted to see educators reaping the benefits.
When I talk to people about mindfulness, and mindfulness in schools, I find a lot of people know of the idea, but that they don’t really know much about what it means. There’s a vague idea of it meaning you pay more attention to what's going on around you, which seems a fine idea for a teacher, but not much real detail. So, what does it really mean? Is it really beneficial? And if it is, what can be done to get it into the classroom when the school doesn't have a proper mindfulness programme?