An Examination of the Impact Of ICT, Particularly Social Networking, on the Education and Experiences of Young People of Secondary Statutory School Age

Anne Rogerson


ICT has revolutionised learning opportunities and the tools available to teachers and schools to deliver knowledge, and more especially to develop a love of learning, amongst the young people with whom they work. There can be no disputing the increased breadth and depth of information available through the internet and sources such as Wikipedia. The web has revolutionised the way pupils can access information. There are possibilities of drilling down to find statistical data, maps and plans which would have been generally inaccessible at local level, much less available within the school or home, for the average adolescent prior to the web. Such sources make personalised learning a reality and provide the path to realisation of individual potential. An initial examination of the current climate and the changes which have occurred in schools’ use of ICT over the past two decades may therefore lead to the conclusion that they fall into the category of “forward changes”. Other forward changes could include the opportunities to communicate with young people of similar age in other countries and from other cultures. Such interaction can create the means of breaking down barriers which so often are the foundation of prejudice based on ignorance.

Looking at the last example of a possible forward change, such interaction would fall under the broad banner of social networking. Does this mean that social networking, per se, represents a forward change in the use of ICT, particularly as it effects young people?(For the purpose of this paper young people are defined as pupils aged 11-16 years who, in England, would be at the secondary stage of statutory education) There are a host of examples to be culled from news reports of the potential, and in some cases the actual, abuse of young people by contacts made on the internet. Does this then mean that ICT has produced a “backwards change” in terms of social impact, providing a broader platform and a vehicle for those who would do children harm? Are young people significantly more at risk, through social networking, of being “groomed” by potential paedophiles?

Sexual abuse is but one aspect of abuse and is usually, not always accurately, perceived as being perpetrated by adults on minors. It can of course sometimes be a dominant minor involved in perpetrating such abuse. However, arguably, a more common form of abuse is that of bullying. This can take the form of one on one , or one on many, in the on-line world, just as in the real world. Is the risk of being bullied greater on-line, via social networking sites, than it is off-line? Is on- line bullying different from off-line bullying? Are the effects different? What are the remedies and, more crucially, what are the attitudes of young people, born in the digital age, themselves to these issues?

There are other aspects of social networking which merit examination in terms of use by minors. Does the use of social networking enhance or stilt the development of more conventional means of social intercourse? Is there a danger that increased use of the web will lead to a reduction in face to face meetings, increasing isolation and a risk of losing what are currently regarded as commonly accepted inter- personal skills? Such skills may include the ability to respect and acknowledge personal space, read visual cues such as facial expressions alongside auditory stimuli such as tone, volume and pace of voice. Furthermore, is this group of young people more vulnerable than adult users and so should there be controls/strictures in place aimed at their protection? Do the adults in society have a duty of care to these young users and if so, who should exercise that duty of care and what form should the expression of that care take? Is it an issue of control through statute and policing, or will that simply serve to stifle the creative, beneficial uses of social networking sites by the young? Should the care come from the providers of social networking sites( the conduits) such as Facebook, My Space and Bebo? How can they assist in the protection of young people, or indeed is it their role to do so? What is the role of the ultimate child carers, namely the parents? Last but not least of these adults with a duty of care, what is the role of schools and education professionals in this safeguarding debate, which must surely aim at achieving a balance between protecting the young from abuse, whilst enabling them to develop through harnessing the benefits of this very powerful medium of ICT. The obverse of this “duty of care “coin is should adults be the instigators of safeguarding or should they simply be the channel empowering young people themselves to develop their own safeguarding techniques?

It is necessary to know the views and experiences of young people on these issues before being able to answer the broader question of whether ICT changes, which have enabled the growth of on line social networking, have proved a backwards or forwards step change in terms of social impact, or indeed whether social networking constitutes a sideways change. For this reason, the final paper will present the results of a detailed survey examining the issues, including the use of social networking sites, preferred providers, origin of contacts and purpose of use by young people. The sample population will be drawn from pupils at two secondary schools in different locations within England. Based on the outcome of that survey, focus groups will be established to discuss questions raised in this abstract and to enable conclusions to be drawn, within the constraints necessarily imposed by the sampling of the young people, on the issue of the nature of the changes in ICT.

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