Today, I have something different for you, a “blast from the past”.
I was cleaning out one of the cupboards in my office this week, and I came across a booklet entitled “Director’s Report, 2013-2014”. This was a document I sent out to the parents at the International School of Dusseldorf, in my final year there as Director (Head of School). Here is part of that report - it’s what I had to say to those parents about technology. And as you read this, remember it was six years ago - back when the latest cutting-edge technology was a relatively new thing called an i-pad, you could buy an i-phone 5 or a 5S (the 6 wasn’t released until September 2014), and the cloud was still just an idea.
“Technology is not a part of our children’s future, it is a part of their present. It influences the way they communicate, the way they interact with each other and with the world around them, the way they entertain themselves, and the way they learn. We, the educators, cannot ignore technology. We must learn to use its considerable power to further student learning. But, we must always remember that students learn best from each other, and they learn through established relationships. Students learn very little of lasting value from staring at a computer screen.
Technology also brings with it a new set of rules and responsibilities. Children now have the capability to bully each other from the comfort and security of their own bedroom. Children now have the capability to access all kinds of inappropriate material. Children are now able to post material on social networking sites that may cause them embarrassment in future years.
And our (school and parents) ability to stop this from happening is limited. We can tell them not to bully, but we cannot monitor what they post late in the evening when they’re supposed to be asleep. We can put filters in place to stop their access to porn sites, but really all a student needs is a friend with a 3G phone and he can access whatever he wants. We can put in place consequences for such misbehaviour, but consequences are seldom considered by children contemplating mischief. At ISD, we used to block Facebook from the school server. This barely slowed down student access. Many of them went immediately to sites with names like myschoolhasblockedfacebook.com and went from there. Blocking, banning and punishing are not the answer.
The only answer is education. In this new technical age, we must educate children to use the available technologies safely, wisely and responsibly. And this must happen not just in IT lessons, but in Life Skills, English, Humanities, Languages, Maths and everything else. It must happen at school and in the home. It is now an essential part of how we raise children''.
It’s hard to believe that I wrote this six years ago! I think it’s as relevant today as it was in 2014 (although we no longer talk about a 3G phone - we have to add a couple more Gs). Technology is still a joy/addiction/danger/opportunity/advantage/risk for our children, and teaching them to use it responsibly has to be a part of how we raise and educate them.
The story about Facebook is a true one. I think it was around 2006 when the board at the school took the decision to block Facebook because they felt it would be a distraction for the kids. And the kids just laughed, because they were way ahead of the adults. Now of course kids aren’t interested in Facebook (I’m told it’s for “old people”) but I am sure the kids are still laughing at our attempts to “control” their use of technology. Earlier this year we came across a child who was talking in class (not at all unusual), but she was talking to her Daddy, through her Apple watch (her i-phone was turned on, safely hidden in her backpack).
The girl was in Grade 2!!!!!
I have written in previous letters about our on-going battle against cheating, the most common form of which is plagiarism. We, and most other reputable schools, use a service called “Turnitin”, which is an internet-based plagiarism detection service. In secondary, all work for summative assessment has to first pass through Turnitin, which "checks submitted documents against its database and the content of other websites with the aim of identifying plagiarism” (Wikipedia). Even if a student substantially changes the wording when they copy, there will be enough left for Turnitin to identify the plagiarism. So our use of technology, in this instance, serves to stop the kids cheating, right?
Wrong! Parents, here’s a little homework for you. Get on to the internet, and go to a website called beatturnitin.com. The first article that comes up is called “How to beat Turnitin in 2019 and get away with it”. Now do a little more exploring, and you will find more sites where you can learn more ways to cheat and get away with it. And our kids have access to all of this.
In 2014, I wrote that “blocking, banning and punishing are not the answer. The only answer is education”. It still is. The answer, I believe, is parents and schools working together to raise young people of integrity.
Head of School - OGC Campus
p.s. I think my writing style has changed over the past six years. I think I sounded more “posh” six years ago, what do you think?