Call to train teachers on cyberbullies

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 05:00 28/11/2012

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Admitting to being the victim of cyber-bullying can be the worst thing you can do in some schools, an education researcher says.

John Fenaughty, of not-for-profit education consultancy Core Education, told a NetSafe conference in Wellington this week that a large number of teachers did not know how to properly handle students who were the subject of vicious online attacks.

His view was supported at the conference by Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford, who said there was not enough professional development of teachers, principals and board of trustee members around bullying.

"There's almost too many bullying programmes in schools, but not enough certainty over how they all work."

Dr Fenaughty said some schools were so focused on teaching literacy and numeracy that they were overlooking the teaching of ethics.

In today's schoolyard, bullying and cyber-bullying went almost hand-in-hand. A 2010 study showed 57 per cent of students who were bullied at school were also being bullied via their mobile phones, he said.

Dr Rutherford said some schools were also quite poor when it came to informing parents about bullying incidents.

In August, the Law Commission published its report on harmful digital communications, which recommended a new electronic communications offence for those aged 14 and over, as well as the establishment of a Communications Tribunal to enforce apologies, take-down and cease-and-desist orders, and unmask anonymous offenders.

It also recommended new legal requirements for all schools to help combat bullying.

Justice Minister Judith Collins is considering the recommendations and is expected to submit her preferred initiatives to the Cabinet before the end of the year.

NetSafe chief technology officer Sean Lyons said the recommendations were encouraging but did not quite go far enough.

He would like to see a mandatory requirement for schools to put staff through anti-bullying training and to have at least one staff member who was responsible for cyber-bullying.

Ms Collins also spoke at the conference, where she reinforced her view that a hard line should be taken over cyber-bullying and harassment.

But she added that freedom of speech would be protected under any law changes.

In doing so, she pointed to reports from Britain this week in which a woman was found guilty of racially abusing her New Zealand-born neighbour by calling her a "stupid fat Australian".

Ms Collins said she did not want to see people's freedom of speech restricted to that extent. "It's important to retain the right to be idiots and to make fools of ourselves."

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- The Dominion Post

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