Are Schools Becoming ‘Big Brother’?

There are two significant ways that IT is entering our children’s classrooms. In my opinion one (as a tool for learning) is unequivocally all good and needs to be facilitated effectively.

The second, I have far more mixed views about. This is the use of IT as a facilitator for ‘helicopter parenting’. Some go so far as to suggest that this ‘invasion’ should include cameras in classrooms, accessible to parents online (already happening in a few places!) Some claim this as a natural extension of the ‘parent’s right to know’ whilst others (especially many teenagers) condemn it as an over-intrusive exposure of their children’s lives and a denial of their right to develop through their own successes and failures. Here’s an interesting CNN article touching on some of the issues. The comments at the bottom give some insights in to the strong emotions the issue can raise

CNN Article on ‘Student Management Systems’

Some of what IT has enabled teachers to do has contributed to very healthy and positive improvements in the methodologies for reporting. School/ class reports have existed as long as mass schooling has existed, but IT offers some efficiency gains as well as enhancing the value of the reporting. However, I also share some of the reservations that come from children and teachers. Not for nothing did the Harvard Business Review dedicate it’s entire April 2011 issue to the benefits and value of learning through failure throughout life. This included discussion of how we fail to respect the true value of learning through failure, right from childhood to the workplace. The results are that people are really not good at it, are often destined to repeat their failures, look for ways to shift failures off themselves, hide them or generally deny them. The net result can often be a very high price to pay.

In an adult working environment, when someone has been given a task or a responsibility, we don’t step in every two hours to see in what ways they failed, to analyse their performance or impose corrective measures based upon our perception of the “right” way to carry out the task. When a funding grant is given to an organization to carry out scientific research, do we pull the plug on them as soon as they have a failure? The reality is that, if we need to check up at all, we do it at an agreed frequency which is understood by both parties, that is not done surreptitiously, but through an open and transparent review. We start from an assumption that what matters is their delivery of final results/ outcomes and that they have some right to choose how they reach those outcomes within reason and certain pre-agreed understandings about risk etc. To intervene with the child over every single mark or grade, every piece of work done/ not done seems to me a recipe for preventing the child from ever really taking full and complete ownership for the long term outcomes in their learning (and maybe even in their lives).

Even within the CNN article there are comments suggesting that the best reason for giving parents a detailed window in to everything happening in the classroom is to double check that the teacher is getting everything right. This, again, to me, is tied to the debates about whether teachers’ professionalism is adequately recognized and respected. I would argue that some of these parents believe they need direct insight in to the classroom because teachers can’t be trusted!

So, on the one hand you have the ‘helicopter parents’ who want to micro-manage everything happening in relation to their child’s learning (with a starting assumption that they know best what the child needs!) and at the other extreme the abdicating parents who pay no regard at all to what their child is doing in school. In to these extremes comes the IT with the hope of shifting the latter group to become more engaged for the sake of their children. Whilst I’m all in favour of that laudable goal, we may be handing to the parents at the other end of the spectrum the tools that turn them in to ultra-controlling monsters. The challenge will be for us to find the ways to get the benefits whilst minimizing the risks.

Would love to hear thoughts on how we might best do that ……………..


One Response

  1. I totally agree IT as a tool for aiding learning is fantastic but actually putting cameras in a child’s class room is a bit too much. I feel by doing so you are not only not trusting the teachers but also your own child. Though the child will resent it but somewhere will get used to the idea that their parents will manage their lives and in the long run find it very difficult to become independent.

    Mostly, I feel this is an issue of trust and control. Parents see their children as projects and raising them “successfully” is a test they have to pass. But I think putting cameras in classrooms is violating the basic respect that another human being deserves. Why can’t parents focuss their energies in inculcating open communication with their children and have faith that they will let them know what is happening at school. Also, trust the teachers, just as a parent, I am sure all teachers only have the best interest of their students at heart.

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