2much 2handle? Schools, social networks, and cyber bullying

by Tracey Burns
Analyst and Project Leader,  Innovation and Measuring Progress Division, Directorate for Education and Skills

“I’m really worried but I don’t know how to react” my friend told me over coffee the other day. Her daughter, 11, had told her that she was being bullied online, but would not say by whom.

“What can I do? And how do I know if it’s serious or not?”

A just released OECD publication looks at how rapid technological development has changed the way we interact with each other and our communities. Despite the enormous potential of the Internet to reshape our world, there is a downside to infinite connectivity. Internet fraud, privacy concerns and identity theft are all part of the online world. For parents and children, worries about cyber bullying and protecting children from explicit content and online predators are crucial.

Cyber bullying occurs when a child, preteen or teen is threatened, harassed, or embarrassed by another young person using the Internet. A number of high–profile tragedies, for example teens who committed suicide as a result of cyber bullying, have brought this topic to the top of policy, education, and parental agendas. However the extent of cyber bullying is hard to estimate, varying from more than 10% of surveyed internet users aged 9 16 years in Australia, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden and the Russian Federation to between 2- 3%, in Italy, Portugal and Turkey. While cyber bullying is worrisome, bullying offline is still reported to be more common.

Interestingly, the bully and victim roles are often interchangeable and related: those who admitted bullying others were more likely to report being bullied themselves, both online and offline. Guides to protecting Internet users make it clear that the best preventive strategies involve awareness, constant vigilance, and keeping an open dialogue about children’s concerns and online lives. For education, this poses a series of tough questions. What responsibilities do educators have in monitoring student’s time online during school hours? How can different parental standards of safety be accommodated?

The advent of cyber bullying is just one example of technological changes sweeping OECD countries. Trends Shaping Education 2013 looks at 14 of these trends and their possible impact on education, including:

  • Social networking: Founded in 2004, Facebook had over 1 billion active users by September 2012. Should schools see social network sites as an opportunity to extend the learning process/experience beyond the classroom?
  • Increasing diversity of local content: Since the mid 2000s the diversity of languages on the Internet has increased dramatically. There are now over 250 languages online, with English, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish comprising the top five. Does local diversity of Internet content lead to better or worse quality of information available for students?
  • The evolution of the Internet: In January 2009, there were 15 000 downloadable applications, or “apps” available. By September 2012, this figure had grown to over 1.5 million. Is there a market for educational apps to improve learning in the classroom and extend it beyond?

The transformation of the Internet is felt throughout the entire world, including the poorest regions. Trends Shaping Education 2013 provides a powerful snapshot of these trends and links these data to the evolution of our classrooms and schools. How can educators develop their students’ critical capacity to use and contribute to the wealth of information available at the click of a button? What kind of quality control should we expect from e-learning? How can teachers make the best use of ICTs for teaching and learning?

These are just some of the questions we must ask ourselves when planning for the medium and long term of technology in our education systems. Our world is changing. The question is: are our schools evolving too?

This is the second of a series of blogs issued for the release of Trends Shaping Education 2013. You can find the first one here:
The weight of nations: the shape of things to come?

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