Training Children to be Insecure Online

The Status Quo in Schools

The internet is not an entirely safe environment for children to roam freely, that is certain. The question is how schools should act in the children's best interests.

There are plenty of options, but schools usually rely heavily on surveillance and filtering to provide some coercion and a hard boundary. Coercion, as every time a child tries to access a forbidden site a warning will flash on the screen to warn that their actions have been recorded by the school. A hard boundary, because, well, erm, that's not so clear. The management say it is to protect students from accessing inappropriate material or sites, but that can't be true, can it, when they know every child carries an always connected 4G mobile phone?

The effort and expense that is made to secure the school broadband is huge, from renting commercial filtering services and network equipment, to the time and goodwill spent trying to ensure that no-one has installed VPN software on their school-issued iPads or laptops. And it is all for nought, since any child can simply switch away from the monitored, hobbled and usually slow school WiFi to an unmonitored personal phone and their unfiltered mobile connection.

It's a Moral Hazard

So what are the children learning from this process? Is it how to stay safe on the internet when they are not in school? Are they actually being protected from online bullying and grooming or from seeing adult content? No, they are seeing the normalisation of online surveillance and the demonisation of VPN services that could keep them safe out of school.

As a pedagogical strategy, it is not a good idea to “teach to the test” since it undermines efforts to develop a child's interest in understanding the subjects more than the assessment methods. Similarly, focussing on the needs of the school bureaucracy and scaring students away from learning about essential security precautions is not in anyone's interest. It risks presenting security as performative theatre instead of a key life skill.