As the simple fact is that we are living in the digital era! It is not a new thing, although some of us may have the impression that it is. The rise of personal computers, the World Wide Web, and mainstreaming of the internet are something that is going on since the beginning of the 1980s. That is now, more than 40 years ago. Okay, most of us didn’t have internet in our homes at the beginning, but we had to go to libraries, etc. if we wanted to look for some information. But as you know, there isn’t anything that is developing faster than technology, hence things changed pretty soon.
As a result, in the past twenty years or so, the Internet became omnipresent in our lives. As you all know, these days they’re practically isn’t a thing that you can’t do without the Internet. Now, it is necessary to say that it made our life much easier in many ways. But, the expansion of the Internet also brought up some issues, such as whether we should restrict children’s access to World Wide Web. There are ongoing discussions regarding this topic whether we are talking about the usage at home or in schools. The discussion about schools blocking Internet access is a hotter topic and causes totally contradicting opinions since it emerged. Some people claim that it suppresses student’s freedom and creativity. Others insist that schools have an ethical obligation to protect students from offensive and/or obscene content. Where do you stand on this? We were not sure what to think about it and it seemed that both sides have reasonable arguments. Hence, we talked with teachers and education technology professionals to hear what they have to say about this issue.
The Situation Regarding School Blocking Internet Usage
As much as it is useful, as we know, the World Wide Web is full of violent and in other ways harmful content. That kind of content is not appropriate for anyone, let alone children. We are talking about pornography and other forms of violence against women, racist and anti-Semitic content, violent images and videos, etc. Hence the government passed Children Internet Protection Act (CIPA) that requires schools to install web filtering software. This software is designed to prohibit students from accessing websites that contain harmful content. Apart from the reasons we mentioned above, some schools use those filters in an attempt to prevent scamming, cyberbullying, etc., too. According to the American Association of School Librarians around 98 % of schools in the U.S. A use this software. But as we mentioned, some people tend to see school blocking VPN and other things, as problematic. Their main argument is that the school stifles student’s freedom, curiosity, and creativity. So some people wonder about whether schools are right to do this, and could there be a solution better than censorship.
So Should Content Control Be Used in Schools?
This is the question we will try to discuss. So, there is no denying that CIPA intends to protect children. The main concern is that it set the filtration guidelines too broad, so both students and teachers can be prevented from using the educationally useful content, too. Nonetheless, there are plenty of reasons why teachers should use school blocking filters. Not only that they can keep students safe but, also focused on educational materials. Advantages of web filtering in schools include the following.
• It blocks access to pornography and other violent content.
• It keeps students focused by preventing them from playing games, etc.
• It prevents cyberbullying
• It protects the student from all kinds of predators.
Cons of Web Filtering in Schools
But there are downsides, too, as we mentioned. Digital literacy is an important skill in this age. Like with any other skill, to fully develop it, you need practice, right? Well, the problem is that web filtering can potentially deprive students of this practice. Apart from that, it can prevent students to learn various important things if the filter is too restrictive. Take diversity, for example. Because we are living in a patriarchal society, the issues of LGBT persons are still in the 21st century regarded as a controversial topic. Hence many filters restricted access to any page related to LGBT issues and support to LGBT youth. As you can imagine, this was a huge problem because it prevented students from learning about differences that exist among humans. It also prevented young lesbians or gays to get to support they needed to deal with whatever obstacles they could have been facing. American Civil Liberties Union started a campaign to change the minds and policies and those filters were finally removed. But this is just one example. Now let’s see other disadvantages of internet blocking in schools.
• Filtering prevents students from learning to use the internet effectively. Also, it doesn’t help them to use the internet responsibly.
• It prevents students from developing critical decision-making skills. A child whose access to information was restricted all the time will grow up not knowing how to distinguish what is good content and whatnot.
• The Internet provides a plethora of information. Although it can sometimes be problematic, it is also a good thing. We can learn about different cultures, customs, people, events, etc. If the filters are too restrictive lot of this knowledge may become inaccessible.
What Schools Can Do to Effectively Use Content Filtering Software?
Undoubtedly, teachers and administrators have not just ethical, but also legal obligations to make sure that all students are safe in schools. But how can they do it without the risk of restricting education and creativity? Well, for one, they need to consider that it is not possible to use the same filters for everyone. For example, okay there may be something inappropriate for a kid that is still in elementary school. That however doesn’t mean that the same thing won’t be super useful for someone who is about to graduate high school. Hence before they implement web filtering policies, schools need to consider the maturity level, age group, etc., of students and decide accordingly. Also, admins can ban keywords instead of websites. They can also ban specific features on the website. For example, they can disable access to the comment section or certain channels on YouTube, but leave the page accessible. Also, they can use tools to unblock blockers and let students use the internet without filters. This, of course, should be done with the supervision of the teacher or parent if the student used the computer at home. Finally, students should be able to ask for permission to use school proxy sites to unblock and use the pages, easily.
Digital technology presents numerous challenges and dilemmas for the educational system. Nonetheless, at the same time, it undeniably makes the learning process much easier, by bringing in plenty of innovative and exciting things. As we mentioned, school staff has both ethical and legal obligations to put student’s safety before anything else. But that doesn’t mean that they need to resort to censorship. As you have seen, there are many ways how they can use web filtering software without restricting access to valuable knowledge and skills.