'‘We are not protecting youngsters from the perils of social media’

New technology brings great advantages to Sheffield schools, but it also brings new challenges, says our secret teacher.

Thursday, 27th June 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 27th June 2019, 6:00 am
Our secret teacher says fellow teachers 'spend a great deal of time tackling bullying problems that arise online and spill over into real life.'

Last week, I was aware that one of the kids in my form had a birthday and was impressed – as well as slightly jealous – when they turned up with a swanky watch that could take pictures, link to their music playlists and pretty much do everything apart cut the grass.

I was less impressed later in the day when I found out they’d been taking photographs on the watch, snapping other students that needed deleting and leading to a request from me to not bring the new gift in again.

Students taking pictures of each other and all of the related social media issues that can result from it is a big problem for teachers today – we spend a great deal of our time tackling bullying problems that arise online and spill over into real life.

In a survey published last week, it emerged that headteachers in this country are more likely to be dealing with cyber-bullying problems than those in any other developed nation. A quarter of a million teachers were surveyed in the 48 most developed countries on the planet, and we should be ashamed to learn that online bullying is worse in England than any other place.

In the report, an education think tank concluded that bullying had got worse in the five years since the survey was last carried out – and the blame was laid firmly at the door of social media.

The real shock comes when you look at the figures. As many as 14 per cent of headteachers in the English school system say they have to deal with cyber- bullying issues each week.

The average amongst developed countries is just two per cent and even the second worse country, the United States, the total is 10 per cent.

We’re getting something badly wrong in this country when it comes to looking after our children and protecting them from the harm that can be caused by relatively new technology.

If we don’t get a grip on it soon we will have created a mental health crisis that could last for generations – and it’s not as if we didn’t seen it coming.

This survey should be a wake-up call about how we are getting it dreadfully wrong at the moment – we are simply not protecting youngsters in our schools from the perils of social media and online

technology.

Smart watches and other state of the art wristwear are by no means commonplace in schools at the moment. But this will change.

There was once a time – it seems an age ago now - when only a few kids were bringing camera phones into school and now most children have them in their bags, even if they’re not allowed to get them out.

When technology becomes more popular and is made on a larger scale, it becomes cheaper and more accessible – this is going to happen with the latest generation of watches in the next few years and it will be the norm rather than the exception for young people to be wearing them.

Once this has happened, another battleground will open up and the job to contain online bullying will grow even harder.

Teachers are indeed fighting a losing battle if they think this is going to be contained by holding back technological advances.

Instead we need to learn from other countries to find out how they deal with this 21st century issue.

Answers are likely to lie more in widespread cultural change rather than in the classroom.

Two weeks before I discovered the camera phone in my lesson, a friend of mine made me aware of a discussion in a parental Facebook group which named some of the teachers at my school.

The discussion was not complimentary, and some fairly offensive things were thrown in the direction of my colleagues

If some parents can’t be trusted to behave well online, how can we expect them to be role models and monitor what their children are doing? This is going to be a long, difficult uphill struggle – and it’s not one I’m convinced we can win.