Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

The Outsiders: A primary school teacher’s view of digital media

In new series The Outsiders, we talk to people outside of our industry for their views of digital — what they really think about the good and bad it has brought to their lives and how they use it in each and every day. 

First up, the primary school teacher.

At NDA, we aim to bring you the brightest and best commentary from leading practitioners working across all aspects of digital media and marketing.

Yet, sometimes in the excitement of the new and the next, in our pursuit for new ways to gain competitive advantage, we forget that most people aren’t experts — they just want a digital world that works for them. Most of us only need think about how we explain our jobs, roles and responsibilities to our parents, neighbours and non-industry friends to know this to be the case. 

We hope our The Outsider series will be a valuable snapshot of real-life consumers and their hopes and fears for the years ahead.

The primary school teacher

In this first edition, we talk to Sussex primary school deputy head teacher and safeguarding lead Ian, 33, about how digital is disrupting the classroom for better and for worse. 

Following this week’s news that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has published an Age Appropriate Design Code of Practice to keep children safe online and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ call to force social platforms to disclose anonymised data for it to study, Ian talks about the complications this might bring.  

Whose responsibility is it anyway?

Ian believes it is impossible to expect companies such as Facebook to willingly share their data, but suggests they need to take more responsibility in the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. 

Introducing the ICO’s set of 15 standards that online services should meet to protect children’s privacy, Elizabeth Denham, Information Commissioner, said: “In an age when children learn how to use an iPad before they ride a bike, it is right that organisations designing and developing online services do so with the best interests of children in mind. Children’s privacy must not be traded in the chase for profit.”

It is a view that Ian shares. He says that most children today have unsupervised access to connected screens and devices in the home, meaning that they are exposed to content and services before they are mature enough to process what they see and hear.  

“They are native to this world and know how to use all the apps better than most adults including their parents and teachers. But they don’t know how to stay safe – they’re not mature enough to deal with the issues that can emerge,” he says. 

“The problem is you have adults trying to teach children how to stay safe online when they don’t have a clue what some of the apps are.”

Do as I say, not as I do..?

He believes, in line with Denham, that there should be laws to protect children online as they are in the real world – such as film ratings and age restrictions on drinking, smoking and gambling.

“It seems like we want to create child versions of adult things but sometimes we should think, no, you can’t do that or use this until you’re a certain age. So it’s seen as acceptable to have a smart phone at, say, 10 or younger, and open social accounts, but you can’t buy a lottery ticket until you’re sixteen.”

Even though the likes of Facebook have age policies it is easy for children to game the system and lie about their date of birth either with or without the help or knowledge of their parents, he adds. 

Another anomaly was that, even as schools and parents warn against screen time they themselves are indulging it. “Name me the school that doesn’t have a Twitter feed or Facebook page, or the parent spending hours a day staring at their mobiles, even, sometimes as their child tries to get their attention.”

It’s everyone’s responsibility to safeguard our kids

He fears, too, that schools are expected to take on too much of the responsibility of policing or spotting extreme behaviour and teaching children the basics of safety online.

Yet parents are often unable to, knowing little of the subject themselves, and there is little spare budget or time in the curriculum to commit the time needed to do so consistently and constantly. 

“I think more money needs to come from the likes of Facebook or [the messaging platform it owns] WhatsApp into education. Google does it, they’ll come to your school and give you loads of resources, all free, around online safety, but it’s not really advertised. 

“As Facebook, a TikTok or a YouTube you want people to use your apps, but with that should surely come a moral responsibility to keep us safe online,” he adds. 

Better, connected?

Ian believes that it would be impossible and inadvisable to stem the digital flow – “you can’t really live in today’s world without having some kind of online footprint” – and lauds the technological initiatives that help educators shape young minds. 

His school connects with parents via digital platforms, such as an app that allows teachers to share achievements with parents, so that they have a talking point at the school gates rather than the “What did you do today,” shrug-inducing question of yesteryear. It also sets certain homework tasks digitally. 

Yet he is aware of his own digital footprint and that of those close to him, knowing that even the most innocuous posting can be misconstrued. Reputation matters, something he is keen to instill in his charges. 

That said, he still connects digitally with his pupils, such as through the Times Table Rock Stars app, through which they challenge him to ‘multiplication battles’ after school hours. Another app he recommends is BBC Own It, which aims to give children a safe, secure and healthier online environment.

“Yes, it’s screen time,” he says. “And though we don’t want to encourage increased screen time, at least they’re learning – and enjoying doing so.”