Mobile phones, email and other ICTs are incredibly useful in our connected world. However, text and other electronic messages such as forums and chats can be used by a minority to harass others. In the past hurtful comments may have been passed around the classroom on a scrap of paper but now that the majority of our students own a mobile phone, text messaging tends to be the medium. This messaging can take place at any time and in any place as there are people who can even send messages without looking at their phone.
It can be very distressing for some students to receive harassing messages and our counsellors and Guidance Team have experience of dealing with these situations. There are also chain emails that do the rounds each year and these try to persuade you to read to the end where you are told that something horrible will happen to you unless you pass on the message to at least 10 others.
We do have at least 2 levels of Internet and email filtering but it would be impossible for us to physically check each of the thirty thousand emails that we receive each month (seventeen thousand of which are deleted immediately as they are detected as SPAM). Although mobile phones are not allowed to be used during the school day and are confiscated if they are seen, we have no access to the content.
If a student at our school has been a victim of inappropriate emails or texts they should keep the evidence and contact their teacher immediately. If they prefer they can speak to a Whanau Leader or a Counsellor. There are also organisations that provide a free help line like Netsafe (0508 NETSAFE). Vodafone, Telecom and Telstra Clear also are happy to investigate any reports of harassment on their networks. In extreme cases the Police will also be involved as criminal charges may be laid.
I have attended cybersafety conferences and the experts tend to agree that the answer lies with individuals making informed decisions and thinking about the implications of their actions. Students that make an error in judgement have their email privileges removed in the first instance and have to explain why their actions were inappropriate. The letter that they write also has to be signed by their parent or caregiver.
It is important to note that the vast majority of the time the use of ICTs is an extremely positive experience and is beneficial for teaching and learning. We are always working to educate our students to make the right decision and to take responsibility for their actions.