Security vs Learning & Teaching

Computing 2014

Are schools ready?

I was recently in a UK school working with a class teacher and pupils looking at Control and Monitoring.

The school has a network hosted by the local authority to ensure that the system is safe and that pupils and staff can access programs safely. This is important as we all know and I have my eye on next week 11th February 2014 here as it is Safer Internet Day and we all want to ensure that our young people are using technology in a safe environment.

So I am looking at control and the network has a control program installed and so I take the class through the program showing how it works and then they are let loose to explore and learn. The class has a set of iPads and so I show the class teacher what I have on mine in terms of control apps. She is enthusiastic and suggests we download these for the class. The pupils at this stage having been shown some of the programs are really enthusiastic about using them and so we head for the online Apple app store. The device needs to have a password entered. The teacher goes to the office. The teacher returns with the password. The password is entered. The password does not work.

As I have my mobile with me I offer to contact the technical support and they are very helpful and inform me that the password we are entering is correct…. however the local authority IT team may have blocked access to it. This would be for all the right reasons to ensure the integrity of the system. I ask to be transferred to the department. I leave my number, they ring me back, they tell me that they need an email from the school to speak to me, again they are being very safe and I have no problem with this. The pupils on the iPad meanwhile having been shown some great apps are frustrated and can’t understand why they can’t access the free apps as they would be able to do at home. I am told that the system will need to be unlocked I ask for a time scale, minutes, days, months. the kind person on the other end of the phone tells me he is unable to tell me. I hand over to the teacher to take up the baton she provides the school email and contact details and we think we are on the home straight as the morning break bell rings. After break the secretary shows me an email which outlines the situation which is that basically the head teacher needs to take the decision whether to open the whole system up to potential abuse and almost biblical proportion catastrophic consequences. I suggest that they ask for the system to be “opened” for an hour to allow supervised downloads then closed again. The decision to let this happen was not there by the time I left the school and the very polite person from the local authority was unable to tell the school when this could happen.

The pedagogical consequences of this are disturbing. The Government are asking that schools around the country provide excellent opportunities for young people to explore and learn about the technology so that we are not left behind by other countries. As teachers we are being expected to teach a new curriculum in September where teachers are still unclear about the actual vocabulary. Teachers are being asked to develop high level skills and a secure knowledge base when they are unable to access the tools they need when they need them. I asked if I could access the WiFi system so that I could show a program which used Google maps to overlay GPS as I had taken a group outside and needed to show their work. I was told that the school were not allowed to give access to outside machines.

So in terms of keeping children safe and maintaining the security of the school network I would give 10 out of 10. For allowing children to learn anything and for allowing the teachers in the school to use the technology to its best ability for learning and teaching I would give zero.

The worrying thing is, I am sure this is not an isolated case and teachers up and down the country are working very hard trying to deliver an exciting curriculum for their children with their hands tied behind their back and blindfolds on ( metaphorically speaking of course).

When will common sense prevail? Tuesday 11th February is SID and I cannot stress the importance of making sure young people know about the dangers of the online world but there has to be more of a dialogue with the gatekeepers and there has to be an acceptance that what is good practice in a corporate world is not necessarily good practice for the education world.

Your comments on this would be most welcome.

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