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Are Web Filters the solution for Internet Safety in Schools?

Most educators, parents, and students are delighted by the scope of possibilities offered by cyberspace. Many schools are integrating technology, providing access to the Internet for students, teachers, administrators, and staff.
Millions of students around the world link daily to the Internet in schools. Substantial investments have been made to provide added bandwidth, superior networks, and Wi-Fi accessibility, and upgraded Web Filter programs and controls.

Nevertheless, are educators, parents, and students aware of the unknown risks related to the wrong use of this resource?

I recently participated in a “forum” of tech directors in Latin America that were commenting on their schools’ web filter “forces.” Many configurations, technologies, and opinions surfaced. Some of them appeared especially proud and confident about the platform implemented, and that’s good. Other technologies applied were exceptionally professional and top nudge.

In spite of this, students soon find ways to jump those filters if they propose. This is sad but true. Students are not dumb, and the Internet is filled with comprehensive libraries of easy ways and techniques to avoid almost every web filter in the market. I have witnessed quite a few innovative and creative ways students use to jump some of the filters in schools.

Don’t get me wrong; I hope I am not criticizing web filters too severely.Web filters work and are exceedingly useful and needed in schools, especially to help protect younger kids from accessing things they should not access. They are incredibly helpful to control the wrong use of the network and bandwidth and to prevent access to different types of websites and content and to make it stricter for abusive students. Conversely, web filters are not the total solution for Internet Safety.

Why? Web filters are not the total solution solely for the reason that students are not always in the school, and have access to the Internet in various other places where they are not supervised, and can use many navigation devices.

Students must learn to make the correct decisions on their own. Educators and parents are under the responsibility make of them virtuous digital citizens.

After some experiences and headaches, I understood the need to make known to our students that no web filter system or platform is capable of keeping them safe flawlessly. The ultimate solution is that they learn how to make the correct decisions on their own.

There is a minimum of two initial concepts every school must teach: netiquette and digital citizenship.

Netiquette – it’s a word that merely means Internet etiquette. Basically, to know that it’s just as important to treat people with courtesy and respect online as it is in real life. It’s a positive and peacefully effective communication on the Internet.

Digital Citizenship – On the other hand, digital citizenship is a concept that indicates to teachers, technology leaders and parents, what students should know about using technology appropriately. In plain English, it’s a way to prepare students for a world and society where technology will be ubiquitous.

These are basic concepts. Nevertheless, the truth is that many educators and parents lack definition as to what is considered appropriate technology use; or how to teach proper netiquette to students so they can make the correct decisions when surfing the web.

The IT Team! Yes, the IT team should provide expertise, and collaborate with counselors, teachers, and administrators in preparing workshops on those concepts for staff and parents so they can readily transfer the knowledge to the students.

The following are seven topics I deem indispensable to take into account for reflection with the school community.

1. Net predators: Every student must learn to detect who they are, what they want, how they work, how to recognize them and learn techniques and proper rules to avoid being caught. Also, they must be instilled to have the confidence to communicate any abuse to parents or a trusted adult.

2. Cyberbullies: Bullies have always existed, and technology has given them a whole new platform for their dealings. Cyberbullying is a critical issue that every school must tackle. In my opinion, schools must discipline students for cyberbullying actions that take place off-campus and past school hours.

3. Social Networks: Proper use of social networks. Students must learn the consequences of posting delicate type of information on the web, and how a single post can be held against them forever. Also, they need to learn what kind of information to share or not to share and with whom.

4. Viruses, spyware, adware, and malware: Learn the definition and differences between them, and how to protect their computers against them.

5. Password safety: Safety rules to keep their passwords safe and the importance of why this is relevant in their daily life.

6. Hate websites: Students need to learn that the Internet is undoubtedly filled with exciting and profitable sites covering all sorts of useful topics. Nonetheless, it’s also plagued by countless corrupt websites that promote biased opinions such as racial hatred, anti-Semitism, and even encourage extreme censorship. They need to learn not to believe everything they stumble upon on the web.

7. Netiquette: Students must learn to treat others as they want to be treated – with courtesy and respect. These moral values are the fundamentals to practice good netiquette.

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