{Year 2} [Session 10] Byron: Safeguarding Catastrophises Risk (2011)

Professor Byron opens her keynote speech with the refreshingly marvellous admission that she may well feel uncomfortable with the word ‘safeguarding’: it catastrophises risk in a way which is unhelpful.

I feel that this echoes the feelings of the many technophiles and technocrats among the greater community of educators who are struggling to maintain some sanity in an increasingly (distastefully) fear-mongered vision of child safety in a world of ruthless Internet predators – media, which it should mentioned, capitalise on the very same web resources for their own market domination.

In the context of the web, safeguarding is fear-mongering. As Byron points out, it muddles the efforts to improve and enhance the learning experience of children in cyberspace. It is no coincidence that the Department of Education wants to completely reform computing and IT education. My inference, from current affairs and Byron’s closing speech, is that there is a disproportionate risk-aversion (fear) on the part of many teachers to truly engage with the web: this has resulted in strange Catch-22 quagmire of attitudes: The Khan Academy is heralded as a revolution on mathematics teaching but it is inaccessible in schools for the very reasons that children need the Khan Academy. Outmoded and archaic attitudes to e-safety can only be defeated by a new paradigm of Internet-inspired genius which is only available on the… (blocked) web.

As a respected clinician and academic with a solid background in Socratic analysis of the issues, professor Byron is well positioned to speak authoritatively on the subject, being only too aware of the actual risks and dangers from her own influential eponymous Byron Report (which is a keystone for the risk/reward debate) and the peripheral misconceptions perpetuated by the media (social networks are responsible for child suicide, etc.).

E-safety will always be a sensitive issue for parents, children and practitioners because there will be a wide spectrum of attitudes to e-safety from total lockdown to total freedom.

Byron calls to parents to exercise their judgement and customise their cyberspace in accordance with their values, their own particular and personal feelings about what is right for their children. For schools, the approach is not so easy. Too many expectations to manage, and an often naive and ill-informed attitude to perceived danger. We are still getting to grips with how children deal with the Internet. It may well prove to be a little too simplistic to classify parts of the web as 'safe' or 'dangerous' or 'there be dragons here'.

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