Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Test urged before kids use phones at school

At least one in five New Zealand high school students have reported being victims of cyber bullying. Photo / Brett Phibbs
At least one in five New Zealand high school students have reported being victims of cyber bullying. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A visiting cyber-bullying expert is urging New Zealand schools to make students take driver licence-style tests before they can take mobile phones and tablets to class.

Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, a founding member of Australia's National Centre Against Bullying, issued the challenge yesterday in a speech to a Wellington conference hosted by NetSafe.

Dr Carr-Gregg has already called upon Queensland and New South Wales to adopt the tests, which students would sit at home with parents before they could bring cellphones to school.

New Zealand's education structure means it would be up to individual schools to take up the idea, but NetSafe and the president of a principals' group have cast doubt over its effectiveness.

The tests, which could be downloaded from a central website, would sit alongside an acceptable use policy, "so if you've broken the rules that you've signed on for, you can have your licence suspended", Dr Carr-Gregg told the Herald.

Digital technology came with many hazards, ranging from "sexting" and cyber-bullying to internet fraud and copyright breaches.

At least one in five New Zealand high school students have reported being victims of cyber bullying.

"I argue that these devices are not dissimilar to cars, and all students need to reach a certain level of proficiency, as they would [with] a motorvehicle, to avoid accidents and trouble with law.

"There is actually no difference on the information super highway - and we've got lot of people who stuff up on a regular basis."

Such tests would not be mandatory and would need to be trialled in schools, he said.

"We can't sit around waiting for a magic bullet - these are our kids, our communities, our challenges - and we have to do something different."

As use of the internet grew so, too, did the risks that came with it, he said.

"What we need is a more enlightened view. The licence will teach kids to use the internet in a safe, smart and respectable manner."

NetSafe chief executive Martin Cocker said the idea had merit but would need "a bit of work" to achieve its goals.

"Our initial reaction is that as an educative step, there's value in it - but of course if the price of failure was that students weren't able to access the technology, it would sort of be self-defeating."

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Paul Drummond said many schools openly encouraged students to bring devices to school, and had varying policies on usage.

"In primary schools in particular that's often accompanied with parent and teacher support and signatures, so there's a collective understanding around using the technology ethically," he said.

"That's where I think it lies - and I don't know about a test being able to measure someone's integrity or values around using technology properly."

- NZ Herald

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