School filters coddle kids, are ineffective

School filters coddle kids, are ineffective

Summary: Internet filters in schools often compromise a teacher's ability to teach, yet at the same time are easy for tech-savvy students to get around, a parliamentary committee on cyber bullying has heard.


Internet filters in schools often compromise a teacher's ability to teach, yet at the same time are easy for tech-savvy students to get around, a parliamentary committee on cyber bullying has heard.

The Federal Parliament undertook a cyber-safety committee late last week to investigate community concerns about protecting children from bullying online and the measures that could be used to prevent it, such as internet filtering.

Philip Lewis, principal at Gleeson College and chair of the Association of Principals of Catholic Secondary Schools, told the committee that the rise of mobile phone use by school-aged children made internet filtering ineffective in schools.

"The ... problem that schools have is that while we put lots of filters on our networks, the more recent developments of being able to access data and the internet through phones makes it even harder for schools to police that," he said. "Even though it does not happen on our network it is happening during the day."

Mary Carmody, senior education adviser with the Catholic Education Office, said there was also a fine line between protecting children and removing a valuable teaching resource from the teachers.

"There is that balance between having enough open access so that we can engage in really contemporary learning and enough restrictions so that we can provide some security for young people," she said.

This was a view shared by Mary Campbell, associate professor, Australian University Cyberbullying Research Alliance. Campbell said the internet is like a pool; you can build a fence around it but that doesn't mean you don't teach your children how to swim.

"It does not mean that you do not actually educate them about water safety in other areas," she said.

She went on to add that filtering of any kind can't prevent cyber bullying. "I cannot see how you can stop me going on to Facebook and bullying somebody else by any type of filter, because you cannot say that you are never allowed to say the word 'loser', or 'You are not invited to my birthday party' or all of the horrible things that people can say. They cannot be filtered out, because they are normal children's language."

Campbell said that children will also eventually work out ways around the pool's fence.

"For pornographic sites, when children are older, they will use a proxy server to access pornographic sites if they want to because anybody with any technological expertise can, anytime you put filters on, get around them."

Mandatory ISP-level filtering

The government's planned mandatory internet service provider (ISP) level filter was met with criticism by Associate Professor Karen Vered from the Flinders University Department of Screen and Media, who told the committee that hiding the internet from children would not be an effective countermeasure to reduce issues like cyber bullying.

"Clean feed and things like that are not going to help young people to develop their ability to discriminate, to evaluate and to act under circumstances that require them to exercise their own judgement," she said. "If we do not give them a chance to exercise judgement, to practice that, how will they develop that skill?

"The emphasis going forward needs to be on education and experience for children and young people, while respecting their interests, their autonomy and their agency."

However, the filter was welcomed by several groups who spoke to the committee. Professor Elizabeth Handsley, president of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, said the filter would be good for parents unwilling to install their own filter.

"We realise there are political difficulties with internet filtering at ISP level, but from our perspective it is a useful tool. It will minimise the risk to children where parents do not have the wherewithal or the desire to install their own filter," she said.

Rosyln Phillips, national research officer for Christian lobby group FamilyVoice Australia, said the government's planned filter would protect her children in areas out of her control.

"My problem is that as a parent I can control what happens in my home but I cannot control what happens outside," she told the committee. "Even though my own children may not have a mobile phone with internet access, their friends are likely to have one. Just having parental filters in the home is not a solution because for some of the worst material you need Senator [Stephen] Conroy's mandatory filter."

Topics: Censorship, Security, Telcos


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • The only way to stop a book from being read is to burn it. I can't believe how lame this is, "Some parent's don't want a filter ... so we will have to do it for them". And for the "worst" material, I'm so afraid my son might have a friend who has access to a proxy ... Nooooooooooooo!
  • Internet in schools in NSW is not a problem and the system cannot be circumvented, the DET uses a White List so anything not on that list is blocked as undefined, proxies will not work at all, any wanted site can be requested easily by staff and staff have a different level of access than students for smart board teaching. Students being bullied by email can easily submit it to any staff for further action if they want too but they have to take that step, its the same as phones!
    Phones? how to overcome bullying that way needs more redress if the bullied student does not report it then action against the offender cannot be taken!
    Internet Filter? absolute waste of time and money when the kids are home, it has been hashed over so many times before, PARTIENTIAL RESPONSIBILITY!
  • When are parents going to take responsibility for their criminally wayward children and beat sense into them and force them to behave. In my day in the 40s No ment No and woe betide your bum if you dared to disagree.
  • Mobile phones are not an issues at schools, just confiscate them. Schools cannot be responsible for all actions and abuse by students whilst they are there. That is a naive pipe dream of a silly concept. Kids always have found ways around school rules, whether it was fighting, exam cheating, smoking, sex and bullying.

    You have to living in a parrallel universe on Planet Lala if you expect any school kids related measures to ever be 100% water tight...

    Arguing against any of these measures on the basis that must be 100% effective to be acceptable in contemptuous and sanctemonious smoke and mirrors...

    You could just as well say filtering does work at schools because Little Johhny brings in pornography pix in his school bag... Sorry but line of thinking has lost any connection to reality and the real world.
  • Teach them to 'swim' and empower them to keep themselves safe using materials like
  • "My problem is that as a parent I can control what happens in my home but I cannot control what happens outside,"

    Roslyn, part of good PARENTING is to teach your children those skills at home so they can survive in the real world outside your control. Wrapping the world in cotton wool and hiding all the bad stuff behind a filter is not the answer. An old cliche goes, worldproof the child instead of childproofing the world.
  • Have we all missed one major point?

    We're talking about the EDUCATION system !!!

    Bullying, abuse and pornography aren't going to disappear just because someone "legislates". It makes as much sense as trying to repeal the law of gravity and then suing the Earth for failure to comply.

    Kids will always be kids, up to a point. That's where PARENTS and the EDUCATION system should be working hand in hand. I believe that was the original purpose of P&C Committees ?
  • Seriously, a whitelist? So 99% of the internet is offline until someone formally requests it and their request is processed by someone... Education involves teaching people how to think, research, and learn things themselves. To claim a whitelist is a magic bullet is rubbish...there are plenty of ways to get around it.

    As for schools and mobiles, the only real solution is to ban their use during school hours. Just why does a school kid need to have a phone during school hours? Any urgent needs can easily be dealt with via a pay phone or visiting the school office.
    Scott W-ef9ad
  • A lot of the websites are blocked at school because of the advertising on the page.
    Slowly over the last four years I've seen loads of websites that we used to use blocked since they brought in the NSW Portal. Some of the websites they block are ridiculous like bing was blocked until recently.