Irish schools being blocked from accessing social networks

RTE is the Irish national broadcaster and Morning Ireland is RTE’s flagship news program.

Morning Ireland reported this morning that social networking sites MySpace and Bebo will be blocked from all Irish schools from September this year. The reason given for blocking the sites is that they are too time consuming. So far I can’t find any link to confirm this story.

Social networking through sites like MySpace or through blogs are how people and businesses will network in the future. Social networking is becoming an increasingly important skill to learn.

Blocking these sites is actually harming childrens chances of learning valuable skills in later life.

Looking at the site of the people responsible for blocking the access (the NCTE) in talking about their blocking policies they say:

At the moment there are two levels of filtering – Option B: a restrictive level which permits only educational websites as well as sites on a pre-determined ‘white list’; and Option A: a less restrictive system which allows only educational and related websites.

For years we have been trying to get schools to get Internet access and now that they have it, it is being blocked at the filters unless it is deemed educational. How assinine.

UPDATE: – many of the comments to this post have been focussing on the social networks being blocked by schools and while I think that is an important story, I think it is far more important that from September all schools will have a content filtering system in place which will block ALL sites unless they are specifically deemed to be educational.

UPDATE 2: – You can listen to this report on this morning’s Morning Ireland at 1:26:48, it comes from a story in today’s Irish Independent by education correspondent John Walsh.

32 thoughts on “Irish schools being blocked from accessing social networks”

  1. Blocking those sites is a good idea, IMO. The kids are going to spend their online time at home arsing around on Bebo etc. Why do they need to do it in school?

    Plus those sites are full of txt-speaking dimwits. Making them write ‘you’ instead of ‘u’ is the teacher’s greatest challenge these days.

  2. Hey kids! Pssst! WordPress.com more than likely won’t be blocked! 😉

    And now that I got that out of the way, I agree with Twenty Major. School is for learning and education and kids shouldn’t be wasting their time and their teacher’s time and our tax payer’s money.
    Learning about social networking is of course important but why not make it part of the social studies class so it won’t harm their ability to research material online, gain an interest in software development, or do any of the things we should have been doing in college when we were instead on IRC or playing Doom! Internet access in my school days? We had C64’s and were happy with them!

  3. For years we have been trying to get schools to get Internet access and now that they have it, it is being blocked at the filters unless it is deemed educational. How assinine.

    Children not being allowed to do non-educational related activities in a school is assinine?

    IT Fundamentals need to be taught of course. The social networking phenomenon is an exceptionally easy thing to grasp (which is obvious due to bebo’s/myspace’s explosive growth…) so I don’t think anyone can say it’s harming kids to have restricted access to it.

    I would like to see primary/secondary school kids having programming classes – imagine the great things they could do with their bebo/myspace pages in the future if after coming home from another ‘boring programming class’ they could apply those skills to creating features for themselves their friends?

  4. Twenty – not all kids have a computer at home on which to learn about social networking so blocking their ability to learn it in school is simply perpetuating the digital divide between the digital haves and the digital have-nots.

    Donncha – WordPress.com more than likely will be blocked! Read the piece I quoted from the NCTE again. It says all sites are blocked unless they are deemed educational.

    We give out about the great firewall of China, this is far more pernicious.

  5. Danger – firstly, it is not only social network sites which are being blocked. That’s how it was reported on Morning Ireland but as I looked into it I saw all sites are being blocked (presumably including tcal) unless they are deemed to be educational.

    Secondly, as I said in my previous comment, not all kids have a computer at home. Stopping them having access to social networking sites in school may mean stopping them having access to social networking.

    Also, many kids if they don’t have a computer at home are intimidated by them. Having access to something relatively straightforward to pick up will reduce their fear of computers

    I agree kids should have access to programming as well – but if we are honest, there are neither the computers nor the I.T. literate teachers in place to teach that.

  6. Your point about kids not having a computer at home is valid; but not having access to social networking is only one of many serious issues if that is the case. What a far larger amount do have is mobile phones, and given their exponential technology growth how long is it before social networking moves properly onto them? I think mobility and the social networking will be the next bebo like explosion – or maybe I’m a little early on that?

    Mathematics & programming should go together like peas in a pod, and the knowledge economy success would be assured if it was the case. The governments 3.8 billion for science & technology investment is great, but it hits largely on third level institutions if I’m not mistaken. It’s a shame if they can’t see that a) practical technology education should be compulsory and should be a major part of curriculum from as early an age as possible (I mean “hello world” when you are 6 for example) and b) ubiquitous broadband as utility are key drivers.

  7. Danger – I think you are a few years early on the social networking on mobiles. Not many kids would have the required phones to do this nor the data plans which would allow them to browse the ‘Net like this just yet.

    You are absolutely right though that computing needs to be taught at an earlier age. It is unbelieveable, for instance, that there is no ICT subject on the Junior of Leaving Cert curriculum. And, as you said, I would start in the primary school curriculum with ICT – however this will require training the teachers and equipping the schools and we know this government’s attitude to investing in education, healthcare, etc.

  8. Tom-you’ve managed to stir up a good one here.

    While I appreciate both sides of the discussion I wish that there was an approach that would incororate teaching the exploration and use of social media (including)networks within the school enviornment. As stated in FutureLab’s recent article on social software in education; “there are many opportunities to use social software for learning – to develop the kinds of life skills such as collaboration, learning from others and the ability to reflect on one’s own work that our young people need for the 21st century. And many teachers and learners are already using it with a great deal of success.”

    Does blocking Myspace and Bebo help kids (with or without computers at home)? I don’t think so. The educational system needs to be adjusted to understand how kids comunicate so that they can get the maxinum benefit out of the learning enviornment. The world is changing-the education system must change too.
    BTW: We recently blocked Myspce from my work (call center enviornment) as it was too distracting for the people meant to be answering phones! The difference-these are adults who supposedly know better.
    If we teach these kids responsible use now we give them opportunities to create the future of our technologically driven world.

    Colin

  9. When Dominic McEvoy from NCTE addressed the Internet in Education conference that I covered in today’s Irish Examiner, he did not mention the blanket clampdown on all sites.

    All blocking software is very granular. You can start with all sites off and ask for sites to be opened one by one. Whenever our third level censorware originates through a different author, sites I need to cover postmodernism get blocked. The Onion is always blocked. I ask for the blocks to be removed and access to the real world returns.

    It would be interesting to hear NCTE respond to this thread of discussion and to read what Seaghan Moriarity at pedablogy.com has to say. If an Irish educator wants wide-open internet access for the entire school, it normally happens. In my experience, NCTE advises but does not proscribe a sterile operating environment.

  10. Twenty – not all kids have a computer at home on which to learn about social networking so blocking their ability to learn it in school is simply perpetuating the digital divide between the digital haves and the digital have-nots.

    I don’t actually think this in itself should be a driving reason to make bebo available on school networks. Sorting out that digital divide is not just school based – it’s home based and you need to start looking at getting the digital have-nots online at home, not just a communal places like schools and libraries. Otherwise you’re just not addressing that problem.

    We give out about the great firewall of China, this is far more pernicious.

    I’m not wholly inclined to agree with this. Schools always limited what was in their libraries and its net effect was, for those who were actually interested, to push people out to explore the banned. It’s human nature. The difference here is that you don’t have to leave the country to explore further.

    I have to say – ultimately – that I’m with danger on this. I’d prefer to see kids doing stuff in school which they might not necessarily seek out, such as programming and more applied use of what’s out there. It’s not just social networking out there, and I get the impression that arguments over Bebo tend to cover lacks in other areas.

  11. Sorry Treasa, just to be clear, are you saying you think the blocking of all sites on the Internet except those deemed to be educational (by whom?) is a good idea?

    Bernie, afaik this is a new initiative being rolled out starting this coming September – that may be why Dominic didn’t address the issue. From my understanding all schools will be put through this content filter – in that scenario, I don’t see them making exceptions for individual schools.

  12. No. I’m suggesting that within the school system, there is some scope to suggest that blocking non-educational sites is not wholly wrong. And I mean specifically the school system. I think it’s a serious exaggeration to compare that to a situation in China whereby search results are filtered for the country as a whole. Computers in schools are tools for education. Bebo *could* be used as a tool for education, but I’m not getting the overwhelming impression that that’s kids are using it for. On the other hand, access to it was banned by NUIG purely because people who wanted to use campus computers for college related matters could not access terminals due the the large number of them being used for the purposes of messing around on Bebo.

    Obviously I can’t predict what the filters are going to be like, but that not withstanding, if I had children, I would be filtering their use of the internet on my computers also. Schools have a great deal of responsibilities, for which they are given few tools. For obvious reasons, computers accessed by children have to have some filtering. How well do you think it would go down if kids are accessing pornographic content on a school networked computer?

    Is there any major difference between that and the various IT misson statements around the place that block access to various sites – in my case, including typepad hosted sites – for people inside company networks? Most companies have an IT policy which states “Internet browsing must be for business purposes only”.

    Life operates within a series of frameworks. We have problems with education in this country, namely, the erosion of what education is about.

  13. Treasa – I can sympathise with blocking Bebo in schools because it isn’t easy to see the educational value of it. I don’t agree with it, but I can sympathise with that view.

    However, the blocking of ALL sites by the content filter except those deemed to be educational? Personally, I think that’s outrageous! That is basically, denying children access to the Internet. 99.99% of Google search results will be blocked. It will be useless. How are kids supposed to do any project research, for example?

  14. Tom,
    I’m not sure I would agree with you.

    The point of a school is to educate children; it’s not to be an ISP for them. It’s almost an emotional response to say that the net effect is to deny children access to the internet. It denies them access to certain – many – sites, not deemed necessary to educate them at school and only at school. But the school pretty much is not and should not be a child’s sole access to the outside world.

    To some extent, I support the schools’ right to do this and I am strongly of the opinion that if parents wanted their children to have far broader access to the internet, it is up to them to provide and manage it. The question of digital haves and digital have nots is a social issue, not so much an educational issue.

  15. Treasa,

    how do you define what is an educational website and what is not?

    Is tomrafteryit.net an educational website? In most instances I would imagine not but for any child who is tasked with doing a project on blogging, or podcasting or web 2.0 applications, for instance it could be considered educational.

    Would you block this site Treasa?

  16. Personally speaking, actually, yes, I would consider tomrafteryit.net an educational site because there is a wealth of information on it which has been built up over a space of time in a specific area.

    You’re underselling yourself if you think the site is not educational. So, no, I would not block this site. The problem is that while I think sites about and how to do social networking, where it comes from and how it developed are educational, the social and networking sites themselves, such as Bebo, myspace, and to a lesser extent, even flickr are not.

    On the other hand, my own site is not really educational despite people’s efforts to write theses on French road legislation from my comments on Ouest-France reports.

    So I assume the issue here is that I probably have a different sense of what could be considered educational than you do, and that is why I am not so worried about this.

  17. So, no, I would not block this site.

    The problem that I see Treasa is that from September this site (and hundreds of millions of even more educational sites) will be blocked for no good reason. I would respectfully suggest, that this will be to the detriment of the education of the students.

  18. Tom,

    You may find these links useful:

    Letter to schools regarding current filtering options. Via the Teachers Centre website. This is the official letter sent to all schools regarding content filtering.

    Fortinet the company who currently provide the filtering.

    This system has been place for the last year to provide content filtering for schools using the Dept of Education broadband. Under this system Bebo and MySpace are currently blocked with both A and B filtering options. However the A option allows a far broader range of access than “educational and related” suggests.

    In practice the NCTE suggests that schools choose option A as option B is next to useless, blocking even access to Google in some cases. If a site is blocked and is not categorised by Fortinet it is possible to submit it directly from to them for rating. Info here.

  19. Tom,

    I see what you’re saying; I just don’t agree. Lots of things are detrimental to the education of children – but limited internet access can be seen in several different ways, and not all of them are negative in my opinion. In other words, your argument appears to amount to “it’s bad not to have internet because everyone should have internet” and I don’t see an answer to the question “why”, particularly with respect to school networks. It still remains the case that they will have internet access at school, just that the number of sites concerned will be limited. The extent of those limits will probably broaden with time as most things do as wrinkles get ironed out. This is the case in every single organisation I have worked in. Amongst the sites which I cannot access at work at the moment is mainframe.typepad.com. Given what I do, that’s borderline hilarious.

    Are you suggesting that internet access in schools should be completely untrammelled?

    That being said, we have problems with education in this country at levels where internet access does not make a difference.

    1) high levels of illiteracy
    2) major problems with numeracy
    3) major behavioural problems/discipline problems
    4) access for disadvantaged children to education as it stands.

    The overwhelming impression I get from debates on education in this country is that *all* this will be fixed by technology. It will not.

    In summary, I’m of the opinion that internet access is not the ultimate tool of education – there are tools that children require to make it work which are a good deal more important, such as reading, such as programming, such as maths, into which we’re not putting a huge amount of attention. I’m of the opinion that people providing access to the internet via a private network are entitled to limit that access to purposes for which they deem it necessary. If you told me that the relevant authorities were going to block all sites they deemed non-educational to all internet users in the country, then yes I’d say you have a point.

    Lastly

    many of the comments to this post have been focussing on the social networks being blocked by schools and while I think that is an important story, I think it is far more important that from September all schools will have a content filtering system in place which will block ALL sites unless they are specifically deemed to be educational.

    Your technorati tags focus solely on social networks, and in your entry above, you focused solely on the fact that you considered it necessary for children to learn to use social networks effectively. I think it’s fair to say that you did make that emphasis. Not that I want to argue with you over it; it’s just an observation.

  20. Twenty – not all kids have a computer at home on which to learn about social networking so blocking their ability to learn it in school is simply perpetuating the digital divide between the digital haves and the digital have-nots.

    To be honest I’d be more inclined to think kids that don’t have access to shite like Bebo are at an advantage to those who do.

  21. Donal – thanks for the links and the info.

    Treasa – I do believe it is possible to filter out almost all unsavoury sites while leaving in the rest of the Internet. I think the option chosen by the NCTE (ban everything) was the easy option for them but is detrimental to the students trying to learn from the Internet – the vast majority of which will now be unavailable to them. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    You are correct in your observation on my emphasis – I was writing this post quickly this morning after listening to the piece on morning Ireland. It was only after posting it that I thought about the significance of the blocking of all the sites.

    Twenty – 🙂

  22. The clever kids will have the pcs and the software hacked in minutes anyway. They’ll educate the other kids on it too. That’s proper battlefield education.

  23. When I heard this on the radio, I was struck by how casually they would substitute ‘Blocking’ for censorship. Every-time that the word censorship would come up they would repudiate it, saying that blocking was not censorship. But the system they are putting in place in not just a URL blocker, that are putting in a filter. I have helped in one of the schools here in Cork, and soon after they ordered ‘Rate my Teacher’ blocked. They were all over the idea of content filtering. This school was already a disgrace with regards to teaching communications skills and internet usage. In fact the computers were used as little more than ‘typing tutoring’ machines. And the teachers actively prevented Internet usage. Knowing full well that many of the kids did not have any other access. There was an active fear that some of the kids knew more about computers and the internet than the teacher. And they actively attempted to prevent them from utilizing it.

    Ireland is already 10 years behind the western world in computer, and internet access, this just reinforces that propagation of ignorance that is holding Ireland back. The real goal of teachers is to lift up the students so that can soar above them as best they can. They shouldn’t be clamping on anchors.

  24. This is Wonderful News! I had a look a Bebo and was appalled at the content, the spelling, the dumbing down of conversation etc. The most common answer to ‘favourite things to do’ is ‘getting pissed’. I saw pages from 14 year olds with foul language and jokes about being drunk. I don’t send my kids to school for this.
    Please remember: schools are for education not for playing around.

  25. I feel that Primary schools and Secondary schools are two different cases and may require different solutions to this challenge. I also feel that the caveat of child protection should over-ride educational aspirations and this should be a paramount consideration.

    That said, here are a few thoughts that spring to mind …

    1) Mistaken (or otherwise) display of a porn site on a Primary school computer would set that school’s ICT effort back years. Thus outright blocking of all but whitelisted websites has considerable merit.

    2) Dealing with what to do, how to react, who to tell – when a pupil comes across porn or racist or other websites – is a hugely important modern skill – one that should be taught

    3) Dealing with emerging media, technology communications tools, being critical of media content, perspective, motivation, audience etc. are hugely important skills. Burying one’s head in the sand or blanket banning does nothing to help pupils with these essential modern skills.

    4) I wish that the Department of Education would harness the enthusiasm, motivation and fun associated with social networking websites – and use this as a publishing tool for schools

    5) In any case, the Department have not given schools (Primary at least) any money for software since 2001, any money for harware (apart from broadband project) since 2002 nor any money for technical support – ever! So Windows95 and Windows98 machines (unless you’re in a middle-class, collecting tokens etc. area) are creaking with viruses / spyware /32Mb of Ram etc.

    I’ve called for €800million to cover Primary school for the period 2002 to 2008 (cf. http://www.pedablogy.com/2006/03/ireland-mappa-mundi-approach-to.htm) in order to fund an equipment refresh, as well as help reform to a connectionist curriculum and provide realistic professional development for teachers who, like our minister for Education, are years behind our pupils in terms of technology savoir. With extra money in the kitty at the moment, investment in education seems an obvious choice – but the DES (Dept of Education and Science) seem more concerned with spin and Press releases proclaiming what a wonderful job they are doing.

    A revolutionary approach such as this would enable ireland to gain great advantage economically in the years ahead. An evolutionary approach will simply ensure things stay as they are – outdated and increasingly useless in a modern world. And finally, the most dangerous approach, is the DESolutionary approach – simply do nothing 😉

  26. You can easily get around school blocking by using sites such as BlockStop. There are a million out there, most are free and ad supported, but very few to none support youtube and myspace… except BlockStop… 🙂 Kids shouldn’t be accessing these sites in class, but there are times, such as lunch and before/after school that they should be able to use them… that’s why this service exists.

  27. I’m in high school and my view is that if Facebook or Bebo or something along those lines was incorporated into teaching, then it could turn into a really good thing and adults wouldn’t spend so much time complaining about it all. If say, French classes or whatever had like a penpal system with other kids of a similar age in that other country, then it would broaden their horizons. Teacher’s wouldn’t need that much training, just basic skills in ICT which most people nowadays have.

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