On the fringe: children and technology

For once, I didn’t have to agonise over which speaker to hear at 6.15pm yesterday, because I was on speaking duty myself.

Some weeks ago I agreed to be a guest speaker at a fringe meeting on children and technology..

Organising fringe meetings is a nerve-wracking business. In the early 1990s I was chair of LINk, a think-tank of the day, and I well remember the dilemmas over size of room, speakers, etc. If you go for a small room you’ll get mobbed, a large one and you rattle around. The worst situation is where the panel outnumbers the audience – entirely possible when there are 40 or more meetings at the same time – and you feel you’ve let your speakers down.

Our meeting hosts, Vodaphone, seemed to have got it right: with an interested audience and a diverse panel. Andrew Peart from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers was concerned about cyber-bullying, while Cary Bazalgette, a media literacy expert (and Islington resident!) was arguing that children need freedom to explore and create in order to learn.

We heard from Lesley Gannon from the National Association of Head Teachers about policy development, and from Annie Mullins of Vodaphone (and chair of the Home Office task force on internet & child protection) about the industry’s response.

The internet is an almost impossible area to regulate, even if you can agree what regulation is needed.

For example, YouTube can’t screen all the material posted there without employing hundreds, possibly thousands of staff: at which point you have to charge for YouTube – and then its whole nature changes.

My views? Technology leaps generations (remember people saying they needed their children to programme the video player?) so while adults have to adapt to new technology, for young people it’s as mainstream as fridges and phones are to their parents.

The challenges for teachers are the same teaching web safety as road safety, the same teaching netiquette as etiquette; it’s less about banning things, more about teaching our children to navigate them safely and responsibly. My problem with ‘happy slapping’ is the slap not the snap.

Worrying about ‘the youth of today’ and worrying about the subversive effects of new technology are both age-old. So is trying to get the balance right between freedom and safety.

One questioner suggested restrictions on material with ‘teachers’ and ‘fighting’ in the title. But where would that leave a webstory about “teachers fighting cyber-bullying”?

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