Schools cannot turn their backs

SCHOOLS can’t bury their heads in the sand and pretend their students aren’t on social networking sites, says Melrose Primary School teacher Andrew Patton.

Despite Facebook restricting access to children aged 13 and above, Mr Patton said teachers knew of an increasing trend of students on the sites.

At a recent Hume Region eLearning conference, Mr Patton talked to other school representatives who were aware of students having two Facebook accounts; one their parents had access to and one for friends.

“While we could turn around and say it’s not our problem, it would be negligent, in my personal belief, if we didn’t equip students with the tools necessary to be able to use these types of online social media responsibly and safely,” he said.

Like most schools, Melrose Primary has programs that disable social networking sites from campus computers.

But with young children having personal mobile phones, it is becoming more difficult to monitor.

“It’s really important that as an educator, we don’t say, ‘Well, we’ve blocked it, and we’ve said no, we’ve done our job’, because they’re still going to use it anyway,” Mr Patton said.

“I think it’s our responsibility to really step up and make sure they know what they’re doing and the implications of their actions.”

Thurgoona Public School principal Anne Nolan said there were “more than a handful” of children at her school who were using social networking sites.

“There are certainly more children than we would like (on Facebook),” she said.

Ms Nolan said the school encouraged families not to allow children under 13 to use the sites but said they couldn’t control what children did out of school hours

“We’re aware of it, we discourage it and we have to raise awareness (about cyber safety),” she said.

Both Melrose Primary and Thurgoona Public run cyber safety workshops with the students.

Mr Patton encouraged schools to contact the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which could send a representative to schools to brief teachers and parents about social media.