by Isaac Essel

October 30, 2017


J Initiative moves for mobile phone guidelines for students, schools

There is growing consensus that the activities young people have always engaged in offline is what they will also do online, and that the convenience, ease and reach of the Internet facilitates these activities, making them more commonplace. Most children and young people use the Internet positively but sometimes behave in ways that may place them at risk. Some of these actions to them seem harmless but could expose them to potential harm. In addition, some of these risks do not necessarily arise from the technology itself but results from offline behaviours that are extended into the online space.

A young person can be a victim of online abuse through exposure to harmful content and cyberbullying. Young people may also engage in behaviour that is risky to themselves, including cyber flirting and cybersex. These situations can quickly escalate to a point where the young person may lose control. It has become important therefore, that interactive services aimed at or likely to attract children and young people consider seriously the safety of children using these services.

Young people like any adolescents may want to test boundaries, challenge adult norms, experiment with all manner of things, keep or break secrets, exclude or be excluded by peers, deceive parents and worry about one’s development. All this is to be expected online as is always the case offline. The difference is that, such practices online may be spread, manipulated or shared in ways that are easier, quicker, and possibly unexpected in their consequences, compared with offline practices.

From experience, service providers have a range of safeguards that could be deployed including privacy settings/safety tools, reporting mechanisms to enable users to flag or report concerns. Sometimes they go further to develop resources such as parental controls and guidance on safe and responsible use but because nobody requests or demands this, these services either remain in a file or folder in their set up settings.

Moderation is process following an agreed set of guidelines to encourage safe and responsible use of an interactive service in accordance with the Terms of Service. Moderation is performed by human moderators or filtering software (or a combination) reviewing content posted by users and removing content or restricting users as necessary either pre- or post- publication in near real time or following user reports.

J Initiative is calling on Government to initiate a dialogue between parents, teachers, students, mobile network operators and Internet service providers. It is crucial for stakeholders to formulate a comprehensive national guideline on mobile phone and other devices use in education institutions.  This proposal should be made possible with the support of industry players because they have and could be best placed to proffer workable solutions to the challenges being adduced by the second school of thought in the argument below.

The issue about the use of mobile phones in Senior High Schools has engendered interesting perspectives by both proponents and opponents of the use of mobile phones in Senior High Schools. The proponents of the use of mobile phones in Senior High Schools are of the conviction that the world is running at a faster pace with technology, exploration and innovations as driving tools hence their position.  For them, the Ghanaian child in a Senior High school must be made to behave like their counterparts in some parts of the world that have blazed the trail as far as allowing students to use mobile phones are concerned.   The second school of thought on the other hand believes the use of mobile phones could prove to be very distractive. They argue that if students were allowed to bring mobile phones to schools to use them for innovative, research and technological purposes, the purpose would be defeated because many might use the phones for purposes contrary to the reasons aforementioned.

Students would not pay attention in class and might be glued on social media and other social lifestyles that will not inure to the benefit of the students. Again, the phones could be used for pornographic and other negative purposes that could prove counterproductive. This school of thought believes, properly furnished computer laboratories in all schools for research purposes might be the solution. They aver that students that want to use the internet at the school’s laboratory could feel free to do so with better regulatory and supervisory regime than students being allowed to bring their mobile phones for the same purpose. This group believes, students have access to their mobile phones after school or during vacations for the continuation of the development of their creative and innovative instincts.

May be it’s about time the regulator and government  in consultation  with the service providers designed  ‘risk assessment’ framework to moderate the interactive services that children and young people use or have access to while exploring on these service networks.

Work on the risk assessment framework would be in phases; services providers could begin a test of their interactive services against the risk framework indicators to help analyse the potential risks that children might face. The next phase would be to discuss likely interventions to put in place to safeguard the effects taking into consideration the type of moderation, which could be deployed. These actions will dovetail into the assistance the service providers must render to organization/ schools to develop their own school or institutional response to the national mobile phone policy. Service providers could also support corporate Ghana system reviews and update policies for recruitment, selection, training and supervision so the institutions are sure that well-qualified personnel for a required action receive children’s incidents and concerns.

We are well aware of the fact that the interactive service industry is diverse and is provided in various and constantly evolving forms and aimed at different communities, so the guidance is not a ‘one size fits all’. It is for each provider to determine the extent to which to apply any specific point in the guidance so it does not breach any principles. Providers are and will be held responsible for how they deliver their services but consumers have a right to participate in the development of the kind of guidance to deliver.

Source: Awo Aidam Amenyah |J Initiative | Ghana

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