It actually started in preschool
By Simone van Dijk
It actually started in preschool. My little son told me he had seen a movie on the computer. A movie? Why? I don't bring my child to preschool to watch films, I bring my child to play. To play with other children, because that's what he needed. Moreover, I want to control what videos my child gets to see, if he gets to see videos at all. Other parents were also upset, and yet I was the only one who said something about it. The toddler's teacher raised an eyebrow in surprise and muttered that it was no big deal after all.
We should run through the forest
We should swim in the streams
We should laugh, we should cry,
We should love, we should dream
We should stare at the stars and not just the screens
You should hear what I'm saying and know what it means
(Scare away the Dark - Passenger (singer-songwriter)
Meanwhile, the preschool had also become childcare and cameras had to be installed as a 'second pair of eyes'. That saved a staff member. The head office, far away in another city, could then watch along. Naturally, we were asked permission and assured that the footage would be destroyed in a timely manner and under no circumstances used for other purposes. Saying no was not an option. And how could we verify that these images were indeed not stored and used for other purposes? And have these images been destroyed in the meantime?
Of course, Wi-Fi was also briefly installed. People are not yet clear about whether or not this is harmful to (small) children and adults. Nevertheless, in 2011 the Council of Europe adopted a resolution recommending member states not to install wifi in (primary) schools and day-care centres. In countries like France, Israel, Russia, Argentina and Canada, this has been heeded. Anyway, as a parent, you don't need to bring that up at all. Before you know it, you'll be the "wifi witch" and won't be taken seriously at all.
I was shocked when I took my four-year-old son to kindergarten (group 1/2) for the first time and suddenly there was a big digiboard hanging on the wall. The Google toolbar screamed at us in bright colours. So that is the first thing your child sees when he enters the classroom in the morning. It almost feels like brainwashing. What is a digiboard doing in a kindergarten classroom? And when it's not being used, should it be on? With Google's logo on it? Because of the digiboard, the light in the classroom is always muted. Sun or no sun, the curtains are closed, lights off and blinds down.
At first, the school computers were still in the corridor. Children from grade 3 could and did surf the internet freely. Combinations of words that would lead to pornographic pictures were typed openly. Enquiries revealed that there were no child locks on the computers. And well, the teachers could not keep an eye on everything... Games with tanks firing away were played openly, because these were maths games; very instructive.
If my toddler had to walk to the toilet across the corridor, he could see shooting tanks and nasty pornographic pictures to his right, while on the digiboard to the left of the classroom, nasty images from the youth news about terrorist attacks were shown or a video of 'twerking' ladies was watched.
But not to worry! 'The parents' had decided that Chromebooks would be purchased. 'The Parents'? I hadn't been asked anything. Chromebooks are small laptops with no hard drive. All information is stored in Google's clouds. The children log in using their own names. Nice, because they would also be used in kindergarten classes (groups 1 and 2 ). There would be more supervision and misuse of the internet would no longer be possible. Oh yes, and now there had to be wifi throughout the school, of course.
By now, all my neck hairs were standing up. I turned to the management and asked: what is your policy and vision regarding computer use? What is the purpose of use? Have you thought about the children's safety, both in terms of privacy (personal data and learning outcomes) and health (neck pain, hearing problems, eye problems, WiFi radiation). How do these computers work? What are our children actually doing on this computer? Are there child locks on the computers? Are the children protected from harmful content? Storing my child's learning data in Google's cloud, that's not safe, is it? The management didn't really have an answer, except to say that we were the only ones complaining about this and other schools were all not doing this either.
After much urging by me, an evening was organised on ICT use within school. The evening was nothing more than a marketing talk by the supplier of the Chromebooks. With open mouth and beating heart, I sat listening. Even I hardly dared to say anything this evening. After all, anyone who would question digitisation was immediately compared to Gaddafi and Assad, who would have lost their kingdoms by not moving with the times! Well, don't you dare say anything yet!
In short, as a parent, dare to stand up for your child's rights. If you even know what these rights are at all.
We were not the only parents who had concerns about digitalisation at school. We were, however, the only parents who really took action. The attitude of many parents is easily of 'oh well, it's the future, you can't stop it anyway'. But no, it's not the future, it's the present! And yes, it can be stopped, you just have to do something about it!
And that is what I am doing now, together with Privacy First. I want to inspire other parents to stand up for the rights of their children, and signpost them to the rights they have. The right to privacy, the right to make mistakes unseen in your childhood, the right to a healthy education, the right not to become addicted to devices, the right to be able to be and remain yourself in complete freedom, without being profiled from an early age!