Disturbing events are unfolding at an elite international school in Baridhara. In the age of digital devices, when children of affluent families are carrying the latest Apple iPhones and the school has no rules against having them on campus, what do you do when students start to record every day jokes and pranks that take place amongst on campus? Who is responsible to monitor these students during the 9 hours they spend on campus as they try to grasp this freedom that should come with so much responsibility. Who teaches these children social media etiquette and responsibility?
There is no doubt the responsibility falls on the school, it’s administration and faculty to monitor its students while they are on the school campus under their watch.
Social media, chat groups, videos, photos- these are the medium teenagers use to communicate now days. Gone are the days when friends call each other on the phone to speak to them.
Today, everything students say and do is on record as a digital footprint. Everything they say and do is on record.
At this particular school, the high school principal Robert Doyle, who is a citizen of Canada , was emailed several screenshots of students chats by one student who felt these chats of inappropriate language, pranks and mischievous acts were wrong.
One of the chats included a video of a student in his underwear in the school bathroom changing exchanging jokes and inappropriate slang with his friends.
When the Principal Robert Doyle received the screenshots he started to evaluate the online conversations these children were having.
Very soon he labelled each child’s actions with terminology he thought would best describe them: sexual harassment, racism, predator, physical assault, child pornography, hate speech, etc.
After this he started contacting the students one by one and threatening them of immediate expulsion from school.
Under Bangladesh law, digital content taken from personal mobile phone recordings cannot be used as evidence without the permission of the Home Minister.
The principal who used these screenshots to punish and threaten these children clearly has no respect for the law of country where he lives and works on a work visa. To make matters worse, he was sharing the content of these chats with the different families involved to prove the wrongdoings.
One of the videos where a child is in the bathroom in his underwear which he labelled as ‘child pornography’ was shown to another family without blurring that child’s face. This is not only illegal and unethical but a criminal act. In fact, the fact that he is in possession of a video of a minor who is semi nude can be seen as a crime. He is clearly abusing his power and position as the head master of the school.
Parents trust the school with the care and education of their children. They expect proper guidance and instruction to be provided to their children. This applies especially at the stage of adolescents.
Is it ethical that the school is blaming the parents for the kids’ wrongdoing, threatening the students and washing their hands of all responsibility, not offering them any advice, counselling, or probation instead kicking them out as if they were collateral damage?
For many of the students, this is a first offence and they have no prior disciplinary record. No one deserves such harsh punishment as a first offence.
The school is not taking any responsibility for activities that took place under on their campus, under their watch. A child with a digital device needs to be taught the responsibilities that come with this freedom at both home and in school.
Parents expect and welcome corrective action to be taken for misbehaviour.
The language and terminology used to describe these children’s actions such as ‘hate speech, racism, and threat’ , child pornography, sexual assault are extremely harsh and should not be applied to children who are minors age 13-15 years old.
If the children are misguided, teachers should correct them. To punished so harshly, that too during this time of Covid restrictions and lockdowns when they have been stuck at home, away from their friends and sports is not only cruel, it is unethical.
The children should be given a chance to apologise to those they have offended and a less severe punishment such suspension and/or counselling, so they can learn a very big lesson from this mistake rather than be scarred for a lifetime.
We live in a world where we are bombarded with news on social media of hate, crime, racism, and now a pandemic. Parents and children are all undergoing enormous emotional , financial stress and mental pressure. For an educational institution to put psychological pressure and mental trauma on children and their families during a pandemic and virtual school is a huge injustice.
Writer: Zahid Hasan Dipu