Sometimes you have to wonder about how things align. Down here in Australia we are in the run up to an election later in the year. As always politicians are apt to reach for the populist option and this time it is around the issue of internet safety. Some time back I wrote about ThinkUKnow a joint initiative between the Commonwealth Government, Microsoft and a couple of other bodies to;
“……. deliver training programs to Australian primary and secondary schools through a network of professional Think U Know accredited trainers.”
The initiative was being developed on the back of some very solid research and other consultative processes. Because it was so soundly based, I registered our school’s interest in being part of the program and was eagerly anticipating the launch of the program in April, (I must admit that I hadn’t actually noticed that we had passed the launch date). I was rather taken aback then last week when I received a letter to say that the launch date has now been set back until 2008. In the same letter it announced the reason as being the need to give precedence to a national internet filter initiative.
For some time our federal minister with responsibility in this area has, (try back some 12 months), been promoting the provision of Internet Filters for all Australian households. (Actually as I check back said minister was not in fact originally in favour of filters.) It seems with the fast approaching election it has been deemed more propitious to proceed with the filter scheme than continue with the ThinkUKnow program.
Now I must admit that I have little experience with filters other than the filtered environment that schools operate within. This has a range of levels of control, (in our school we use the most open filter level). Whilst it has proven quite effective in stopping questionable browsing it certainly hasn’t stopped students bringing materials from home to load onto the school network. Neither has it stopped students at home browsing sites that made me feel a little uncomfortable knowing they were checking them out. Filters also do little to stop ‘hateful’ emails unless they contain swearing. As a result I take the position that whilst filters have their place, placing total or even majority reliance on them to make our student’s internet experiences ‘safe’ is very much pie in the sky. If anything filters can breed an unwarranted sense of security and lead to the lack of sensible discussion about issues of internet safety.
The arrival of the ThinkUKnow letter coincided with a very interesting post from Clarence Fisher on just this issue. Clarence mused on a discussion around the theme of the enemy within. The protagonists in this case are the coordinators charged with oversighting networks and the student “enemy”. It reminded me of a post from some time back from David Warlick about fencing in the learning, and another from Doug Johnson about why filters will never be enough.
Hmm now if an election wasn’t due within months I wonder whether our minister would have been so inclined to go down the filter path?