The UK government has started a concerted campaign to stop what Schools Secretary, Ed Balls MP, refers to as a "particularly insidious type of bullying." According to government figures more than one third of teenagers between the ages of 12 and 15 have fallen victim to cyber bullies. Perhaps more surprisingly teachers are also on the receiving end of the victimization, with teaching unions claiming members have been belittled and bullied by offensive comments posted on the Internet. There have even been calls for YouTube to be banned as it has become a favorite amongst youngsters who post mobile phone video footage of teachers being verbally, and sometimes physically, abused. So called 'Happy Slapping' has become something of a craze amongst gangs of kids in the UK who will approach vulnerable youngsters out alone and subject them to a sudden and violent attack just so it can be filmed 'for a laugh.'
The new campaign, therefore, targets both pupils and teachers in an effort to protect them both from abusive text messages, emails and Internet video clips. Amongst the recommendations from the government, that teachers confiscate mobile phones and laptops. Simon Sinnot, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, says it was the first time that such "clear and in-depth guidance" on this kind of bullying had been published. Ed Balls MP commented "the vast majority of schools are safe environments to learn in, however…bullying of any kind is unacceptable. Cyberbullying is a particularly insidious type of bullying as it can follow young people wherever they go and the anonymity that it seemingly affords to the perpetrator can make it even more stressful for the victim. Bystanders can inadvertently become perpetrators simply by passing on videos or images, they are playing a part in bullying."
One teachers union is going as far as saying that pupils' mobile phones should be classified as offensive weapons, or at least potentially so, and for them be banned during school lessons. Well duh! Why do you need a mobile phone in class anyway? How does being able to text the girl you fancy or get the latest sports results help with education exactly? Strangely enough, when I was at school there were no mobile phones. Mainly because they had not been invented yet. I did not suffer as a result. The much used parental argument that a mobile phone makes their kids safer, and if anything 'happens' at school they can be contacted immediately does not hold water I am afraid. My 7 and 9 year olds do not have mobile phones, and on the odd occasion when something has happened at school such as them having an accident or being taken ill, the school staff have somehow managed to find a telephone and contact my wife or I.
Lorcan Burke, CEO of mobile security provider AdaptiveMobile argues that kids should be allowed to continue using their mobiles and that the real responsibility must lie not with the school or even the parents but rather the mobile network operators. "Parents need to feel protected by their mobile operator and want their children to be able to use their phone safely and responsibly. One in four children in the UK now owns a mobile phone. It's a huge opportunity for those wishing to exploit the qualities of mobile phones that have been so instrumental in fuelling their growth-their immediacy, simplicity and ubiquity. Confiscating a child's mobile phone would be detrimental to mobile operators, who will lose valuable custom from an age group who actively text, call and surf the mobile internet on their mobiles. Rather, it would be better to offer security solutions that guard youngsters from receiving abusive messages, accessing inappropriate content on the web and receiving harassing calls. It is the operator who has the capacity to monitor all types of traffic to and from the child's phone and it is the mobile operator who can put in place stringent security measures to protect children from inappropriate content, bullying and spam."
Am I missing something here? The solution is so much simpler than network blacklisting and censorship. Parents need to take responsibility for the actions of their children, a little bit of good old fashioned upbringing might not go amiss. Kids need to know that bullying is wrong, and that there are consequences if they cross that line. Schools need to be able to discipline children, rather than running scared of the European Court of Human Rights whenever they try to deal with an unruly child. Of course mobiles should be banned from class - let them be secured in a locker when entering school and collected when leaving. Sorted.
As for teachers whining about being bullied, well that really does take the biscuit I am afraid. When I was a kid the French teacher regularly spanked us with a training shoe for talking in class or not doing our homework, the German teacher would throw a wooden blackboard eraser at our heads if we were chewing gum, and the gym teacher would punch you in the stomach if you had a letter saying you had a poorly tummy and could not do PE today. A video on YouTube of a teacher getting kecked, which is where his trousers are pulled down, was recently removed for violating YouTube policy - although a news report featuring the video is still there. Now I am not suggesting we got back to the days of corporal punishment, but any teacher who cannot control the class, who cannot demand respect from the pupils, perhaps should think about a different career…