Heard the great Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia fame today, and one of his notable principles is “accountability rather than gatekeeping”. In other words, rather than shutting the door, banning, restricting and controlling – make yourself, your use of the internet – accountable, and encourage this in others. He was largely referring to Wikipedia and online publishing.
However this principle is very appropriate for an issue that bedevils the use of the internet in SA schools, and probably in many other jurisdictions.
A constant complaint heard from ICT coordinators and principals is, “You can’t access that site because DECS [the Department] blocks (filters) internet access.” However, DECS gives control of the site blocking to the Administrator at school level, ie: the principal. It seems that many schools do not exercise that control, leaving the default setting in place. Requests can be made to the IT section for state-wide blocking to be removed, but this is a somewhat tedious process because of the inevitably conservative approach of these people.
So, gate-keeping is the general approach for the system and many schools. But it does not have to be so. Sue Toone is a principal with a different approach. She exercises a liberal approach, removing blocking when it is seen to be warranted. Staff have considerable powers to initiate the opening up of web sites because Sue believes that they are responsible people. They manage curriculum access to a wide range of resources for students as a matter of routing.
It is too easy to resort to victim behavior, blaming ‘the department’ for restrictions on web access when the power is fundamentally in the hands of the school. It means being accountable for one’s actions. But principals and and teachers and school councils are expected to be accountable, to act reasonably and to act in good faith. They manage this in relation to the purchase of books for the library, and are perfectly capable of doing this in relation to selecting web sites for access by students.