“e-Safety Legal Obligations – The Fall of the Supremacy of Pedagogy”

I have a proposition to make. My proposition is that it is not possible to train or educate pupils into not cyber-bullying, not viewing pornography, not sexting and that the stance of many educators and education experts[1] that pedagogy is the best, the ‘supreme’ route to satisfy e-Safety legal obligations is, quite simply, wrong.

I further propose that we know it’s wrong because empirical evidence and academic research tells us so. When considering this matter I am strongly reminded of the actual words of the Byron Review on matching protective mechanisms to different stages of child development:[2]

“…This is particularly because of the development of a key part of the brain throughout childhood – the frontal cortex, which mediates their experience and behaviour. This evidence helps us… appreciate ways in which children’s experience of the internet can present risks. We can use these findings to help us navigate a practical and sensible approach to helping our children manage risks. This is no different to how we think about managing risk for children in the offline world, where decreasing supervision and monitoring occurs with age as we judge our children to be increasing in their competence to identify and manage risks. So, when we teach our children to cross the road safely we do it in stages:

We hold their hand when they cross the road. We teach them to think, look both ways and then cross. When we see that they are starting to understand this we let them cross walking beside us, without holding on to them. Eventually we let them do it alone, maybe watching from a distance at first, but then unsupervised. And throughout this, the environment supports them with signs and expected behaviour from others in the community – the green man, zebra crossings, speed limits and other responsible adults.”

Are we not to supervise and mediate the child’s crossing of the road just because, when they’re out playing, they’ll cross a road on their own anyway?

Are we not to appropriately fence a dangerous building site carefully and thoroughly because some children might be good climbers and trespass regularly anyway?

Are we not to take every technological step possible to stop a child being groomed in a classroom [3] – since ‘way over 50 percent of students freely admit… that they are talking to strangers’? [4]

Are we not to risk assess the use of school paintbrushes in art classes since the children will be painting and drawing at home? (this is from a real case where a child was brain injured by a long paintbrush and the school was found to be negligent).

One could go on and on (and on). Of course one must ensure that children are sufficiently informed and trained to navigate the online world. But even the law recognises them to be inveterate, incorrigible, die-hard risk takers and will regularly do something that is wrong knowing full well that it is wrong. Research into sexting and cyber-bullying supports that proposition too.

To take the position that the activity of School’s doing what is technologically feasible to block pornography in the school is negatived by the child’s manifest activity outside the school; disassembles and refutes the very foundations of the teacher’s, the head teacher’s and the school’s critical Duty of Care towards the children placed in their charge.

Can it be that: “…education, empowerment and young people being able to talk about the content they are seeing is just as important [as filtering and monitoring solutions]”? [5] If one parses the empirical evidence on bullying, pornography and sexting; they all conclude (especially with respect to sexting and pornography use at very early ages) that new norms of accepted inappropriate behaviour are growing.[6]

The children involved in the self-generation of child pornography know that it is wrong to make it as they make it. They know it is wrong to send it as they send it. They know it is wrong to show it when they show it. They feel shame afterwards. Some are slut-shamed and they’ll know that’s a possibility as they do it. But they do it anyway and they do it in very, very large numbers.

Out of the 50% of children that speak to stranger’s, many, many do so in the sure knowledge that they know it is wrong. What do you do with children who are (normally) developmentally impaired from accurately forecasting the consequences of their actions? What do you do with such underdeveloped individuals who will still risk-take? No matter what they’re told. In the teeth of what they’re told. How many receive education and e-safety empowerment on the Monday morning and sext on Monday night? More than we feel professionally able to admit?

I would like to propose something that might be too radical to sensibly contemplate in the current climate. What if the notions of education and empowering those who disregard power are LESS important than technology-based supervision and interdiction tools? What if we admit to ourselves that when we have criminals who wish to escape their prison knowing that they shouldn’t – we need higher walls, better spotlights and better alarms? Train them of course. Educate them of course. But until they’re developmentally able to understand, then build better technologies – more intelligent, more granular, more in the hands of parents seamlessly integrating between the home and school environment.

I would like to dare to admit it. I would like to dare the supremacy of the evidence and the inadequacy of pedagogical, cultural aspirations. I would like to dare this: Training, education, empowerment, enfranchisement and talking about the content they are seeing is (in reality), far, far less important than higher walls, better spotlights and better alarms.

BY: Dr B Bandey, one of the United Kingdom’s leading experts on International IP, IT, Cloud, Internet, Big Data and e-Safety Law.

[1] For example, see an article in The Guardian: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/11666212/There-is-no-point-in-schools-blocking-porn-e-safety-expert-says.html”

[2] Emphasis is mine.

[3]  17th January 2015 – Online Mail Article “Girl groomed for sex by paedophile in her classroom… on school iPad paid for by YOU” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2914989/Girl-groomed-sex-paedophile-classroom-school-iPad-paid-YOU.html#ixzz3oiUpwLve

[4] Adolescence, Pornography & Harm – Australian Institute of Criminology 2009; Sexting: An Exploration of Practices, Attitudes and Influences (NSPCC – UK Safer Internet Centre) – 2012. The figure of 50% originates from a Guardian article on the subject: “Mr Hopwood said it was now the norm for youngsters to engage in conversations with strangers online. He said: “Way over 50 percent of students freely admit to me that they are talking to strangers. They have to be aware of the risks when they are talking to someone online because they can’t be sure who it is or what their intentions are.”” See footnote #1 for the hyperlink.

[5] A quotation from a contribution in the private e-Safety Law in Education Group in the professional networking site “LinkedIn”.

[6] Also see on the issue of cyberbullying the same form of behavioural data – Virtual Violence I – Beatbullying and Nominet Trust – 2009; Virtual Violence II – Beatbullying and Nominet Trust – 2012.

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