Frustration grows over students' web antics

JO MOIR EDUCATION
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2013

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Teenagers trashing their peers online is a growing problem for school principals, who say learning is hindered by after-hours issues spilling into the schoolyard.

Social media, in particular Facebook, and new personal attack web pages are attracting large followings, with students taking to group chats to vent their dislikes.

Naenae College principal John Russell said there was no boundary between what happened among students at night and what happened during the day at school.

He was in the thick of the online wars and an "incredible" amount of work was done by schools on behalf of the community that had nothing to do with teaching or learning.

"The reality is there's a significant number of adolescents whose primary focus in life is to concentrate on drama."

Social networks allowed "rumours of war to spread" and, because of previous issues, his school had banned filming on mobile phones.

"There's been events, sometimes deliberate setups, where students have gathered, sometimes from other schools, and this has all been filmed and put online."

There was a fine line between students using their own technology devices for learning and teachers keeping a lid on social-media bickering.

Wainuiomata High School principal Martin Isberg said Facebook was a nightmare for him and his staff, who were battling with personal attacks on the school that they could not defend.

An incident at the school last month, involving two year-9 students, gained the community's attention when the sister of the victim started slating the school online.

A 13-year-old boy alleges he was stabbed in the forehead with a compass by a peer. "This is two silly boys who are friends who used to do silly things together," Mr Isberg said.

A few days after the incident, a Facebook group, Wainuiomata Buy, Sell and Swap, was rampant with comments about how the school dealt with bullying.

The victim and his father and sister came to the school and, as a result, the attacker, 13, was suspended and has now gone to the Alternative Education school nearby.

"When we found out, we did something about it right away," Mr Isberg said.

A teacher came to him in tears because of the comments being made online and parents encouraged him to make a statement in the newsletter defending the school.

"When people read things and there's no response, they take what they read as true."

He said schools could not comment on individual students or incidents, but often those without the background information did not know the full story.

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- The Dominion Post

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