Internet Censorship in Schools

This post is a direct response to this entry, which was a comment on this article.

(Some of this is based on my experience with the Ministry of Education and discussions re: Internet censorship.)

There are problems associated with any attempt to censor Internet access. Censorship software is not and never will be the complete solution in itself.

For example, it is (always) possible to work out a way around such software. They also have a tendency to block legitimate websites. So, even if you have the filtering software, they will create problems of their own and you will still need to keep a close eye on things.

An improved solution (in my opinion) is to educate users and to also let users know that you are always watching.

You begin by stating clear policy on what is acceptable and unacceptable use of the Internet. This is the education aspect. The best way to do this is still the most general way: to say that the Internet is intended for work and that any unusual use will not be tolerated (give examples: searches for Herbie the Love Bug are okay, Herbie the Love Slave less so, and Lolita the Love Slave certainly not).

Next, you keep logs and occasionally peruse them. Here, you can use some sort of monitoring software. Note that you don't block the access, but you are notified when access happens.

If (or rather, when) somebody crosses the line, you approach the student/teacher involved and you have a nice, long talk with them. This is reinforcement of education, if you like, although I prefer to call it the "are you stupid or what?" phase. You explain what they've done wrong, and (because you've given them fair warning) you punish them. Punishment can range from informing the parents to disabling their account to the usual ritual humiliation in front of the rest of the school.

Note that in this scenario, the monitoring (not filtering) software is only a small part of the whole process and, even then, not strictly necessary. The cost of these software (especially the maintenance) is not trivial and I would argue that the return on investment is poor.

What I have outlined above was exactly what was done in one of the schools I was working with. The headmaster was going through the logs and noticed that teachers were using the Internet to surf dodgy websites, as well as logging on to the Bursa Saham during work hours. He called them up to the office and talked to them. He did the same to a few students.

As a result, word spread through the school that although the Internet was uncensored and free, somebody, somewhere always could find out what you were doing, even days after the event, and self-censorship became the norm.
posted on Friday, May 27, 2005 - permalink
Well, Jeff Ooi is considered "Block pornography" in my college system.

how stupid is that?
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