February 07, 2007

Digital divide: parents

From a Head Teacher at yesterday's Teaching and Learning meeting:

People say you can't rely on parents getting hold of important school information online - we have to supply a paper alternative. But if we can't rely on parents having the ability to read important school letters online then there's actually a serious issue with the safety of their children working online.

It's an excellent point. Parents should be competent online these days and if they are not there is an excellent opportunity for the school to make the connection and provide some much-needed community learning.

Comments

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I agree, Ewan. Kids are out there engaging with totally inappropriate stuff online ( I recently came across the MySpace of one of my son's 15 year old female friends, which boasted a photo of her in her underwear in a provocative stance, another has a picture of herself showing a mindboggling message written on her hand in eyeliner), and parents are blissfully unaware. We all taught our kids road safety and held their hands until they were well versed enough to manage alone. Yet we happily leave them to wander the ether alone and unmonitored. Dangerous!

Yes, that's a well-targeted observation. But other issues stand beside it.

Some parents feel entitled not to use new media - and if that sounds antediluvian, then notice that we all have individual patterns of media usage, even of new media usage.

And whose job is it to decide those parents are wrong about their choices?

A paper newsletter is a less reliable method of communicating with parents than the Internet. How many newsletters fail to be delivered to parents because their child has lost it, destroyed it, or had it stolen? An online newsletter can be archived for future reference.

Even a phone call is less reliable. There's no guarantee that any of the mobile/home/work numbers submitted by a parent to the school are accurate or up-to-date.

As a parent I would have preferred the online version. I don't like bits of paper as I lose them. If parents are interested in what their chilren are doing, the children can teach them. Several of my parents have told me that they are learning from their children. It's those who are not interested that are more of a worry.

I was recently in a group of parents talking about BEBO. A number of them knew their kids had pages, but few had looked at them. A significant number said, 'What the heck are you talking about?'or 'I don't think Kirsty/Scott/Lindsay/ whoever has one of those. To which other parents said, 'Yes, they do because my child was telling me...'
I suggested they google their child's name or nickname.
One parent said, 'But don't the school do something about teaching Internet safety?'
I think schools should take this on, but this is clearly an issue that should involve a lot of parental input. Wouldn't this be a great place for some of the proposed parental involvement in schools stuff to start? It would be task -based, and could result in some good school-home policies.
Re. the online newsletter -as a parent I would love this. I hate scraping it off the bottom of my son's bag. Maybe parents could opt at first to have a paper copy until they switched over to the digital one?

A colleague recently discovered some photos that her teenage daughter had posted on her bebo page. They were, like so many photos posted by teenagers on their myspace/bebo pages, troublingly soft-porn like. This colleague is by no means a reactionary, is very web-aware and talks with her children about on-line safety, responsibilities etc, so it's not like the daughter wasn't aware of the implications of posting such photos. But the point was that my colleague's daughter thinks that when it comes to being open to online abuse she has an 'it won't happen to me' attitude. So surely the question is not so much about teaching young people on-line safetey and responsibility, but rather about exploring why they want to portray themselves in this way at all. And when you are doing that, you are battling against a dominant culture with immense media power, and the chances of winning that battle are probably pretty small...

As for newsletters, i would love to have our newsletter delivered totally on-line, but there are a lot of barriers being out up. It should be a case of having to 'opt-in' to the paper version rather than opting out and taking the e-version. It ain't gonna happen anytime soon where i am though...

Of course, not every parent can afford a computer.

I complacently thought I was reasonably web aware until I started blogging and realised that I only knew (and still know)one very tiny corner of the internet. I'm certain that this also applies to a lot of my friends. I think there's scope, although probably noone has time for new initiatives, for parent workshops on issues like this.

This makes the point brilliantly! Never came across a better 'line' for how important it is for school community (parents & teachers) to work together to ensure a safe digital social and learning experience for our kids!

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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