To Filter or not to Filter
Yesterday, Denmark was dubbed the best country in the EU for ‘digital performance’. For the second year running, the European Commission’s annual report on digital services in Europe, the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), put Denmark at the top of the pile. In this report, the Danes were praised for being “the most advanced in the use of the internet” with a strong propensity to using the internet for a wide variety of services.
I happened to be part of a group of Irish teachers and educators who recently visited two schools in Odense, Denmark. It was a good opportunity to experience and explore schools in a country that regularly ranks highest in OECD countries that invest most in education, and in particular in ICT in education. We were not disappointed. Both were highly digitally equipped schools, characterised by relatively high equipment levels, fast broadband and high ‘connectedness.’
However, it was not necessarily the infrastructure that piqued my interest the most but more the schools’ approach to Internet Safety – maybe it was the week that was in it – Safer Internet Day 2016 was celebrated the day before we arrived!
One particular feature of Danish schools is the student’ use of their own laptops and mobile devices. This usage is extended to during lunch breaks.
Moreover, and most interestingly, the policy of the Ministry of Education Denmark is to not filter content. Filtering is almost regarded as a form of censorship. A greater sense of responsibility is placed on the student, extensive internet safety lessons are carried out before students are given access to devices, and a sophisticated approach to dealing with any misdemeanours and issues is put in place. Students are educated about taking personal responsibility for their actions and how to deal with uncomfortable situations. The teachers I spoke to reported having to deal with incidents where inappropriate material had been accessed or digital bullying and harassment had occurred but these were few and far between. The students are aware that access to the internet in school is a privilege and if they misuse this privilege they will lose it, which they inevitably do not want to happen.
Obviously, the Internet presents intriguing policy and practice dilemmas and this certainly offers food for thought. Is the “Big Brother” approach to Internet provision we are familiar with in the Irish, UK and US systems possibly doing our students a disservice? Are the risks to children presented by the internet overstated and the responses over enthusiastic?
The school is a unique environment in which to promote general expectations and rules regarding online behaviour and to foster responsible digital citizenship. Educating children (and their parents) about children’s roles is vital not only to protect young people from the consequences of exposure to online risk; it is also a crucial part of limiting the degree of exposure and the number of negative incidents and experiences.
So, how does your school manage internet filtering and what has been the effect in the classroom?!