Why banning cellphones won’t ban bullies

I read the two articles on mobile phones in Sunday Star Times this week with some amazement, and a wee bit of irritation.  The emotive story, about the student bullied on his cellphone on the front page, aimed to paint modern technology as something to be feared or banned unless it could be actively managed by schools. A second article inside the paper explored the more positive side of the argument with a description of the trial use of cellphones for learning at Howick College.

The issue of bullying existed long before cellphones, and it has always extended beyond school time, making it harder to manage. Schools have a duty to create a zero-tolerance culture towards bullying, regardless of how it is done.  Banning technology because of the way it might be used serves only to drive poor behaviour underground, and even further from the school gates. Even the Howick College trial referred to their cyber-safety policy as being about banning phones for improper use rather than fostering positive peer group behaviour.

The use of technology in schools should be hand-in-hand with the way we plan learning, and cyber-safety is part of that. I would advocate schools taking advantage of the ubiquity of mobiles to explore relevant aspects of the curriculum, such as how we relate to others, how we manage ourselves, how the use of technology enables us to participate with the understanding that this brings responsibilities as well as rights. The only way to help young people learn how to manage and navigate the challenging issues that can arise in these situations is to work with students as they use these technologies.

Mobiles are particularly pertinent because of their ubiquity – which means that, should they be used for bullying, the reach of the bully can be much greater – all the more reason to help students manage the situation and keep the issue in the open. Cellphones, with web access, mean that students don’t only need to know how to avoid bullies, but also how to manage other issues that arise with unfettered access to the internet.

While banning student access to a technology that they enjoy/need might be an appropriate step at some point down the line, I don’t think it should be a first (reactionary?) step. The opportunities for maximising collaborative learning beyond the classroom, together with the need to prepare students to make the most of technologies in today’s world, should be a key driver for promoting the use of technologies such as these. A positive, rather than negative, default position, I think.

Whether my child is going to be swimming with sharks or taking the bus into town on his own for the first time, I’d much rather he was prepared, knowledgeable, and supported than going into the situation blind.

Netsafe has some great advice on cyberbullying and also a useful guide for helping students take responsibility.

Image source: Electric Images (under the Creative Commons-Attribution licence)

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