Following the tragic shooting in a Finnish school on November 7, a lot of our discussions have focused on a desperate search for possible reasons. Both parents and teachers have been accused of their lack of sufficient awareness of and attention to young people’s problems. Similarly, the Internet has been branded as the root of all evil by many, after the 18-year-old killer’s net presence and activity was disclosed. Indeed, quite predictably, the very next day after the tragedy, some students revealed that their parents wanted to block their use of the Internet altogether.
In face of such negative sentiments, I have reflected on my reasons for using new technology and the Internet in my classes. I feel, more than ever, that it is our role, every teacher’s duty in fact, to strive to guide our students to be responsible Internet users. Young people will carry on spending time on the net, irrespective of adults’ warnings or downright attempts to ban their use. Consequently, we need to get to know our students’ virtual worlds to be better equipped to help them benefit from all the educational opportunities, while enlightening them about the dangers always present there. We also need to instil in them the sense of constant vigilance over anything in the least suspicious in their online networks. From now on, one of my messages to my students will be that responsible net-users don’t make jokes with online threats of any kind, nor do they hesitate taking action – even unnecessarily – rather than shrugging disturbing messages as mere teenage pranks. Better late than never, although how sad that these valuable lessons aren’t taken seriously enough before disasters like this hit us!
Many Finns are worried about technology making young people anti-social. In my experience, they are actually much more sociable than ever, thanks to the Internet. I don’t believe most young people replace face2face contact and communication by exclusively online relationships. At least I would rather see my daughter actively communicate with her friends online than have her passively watching TV for hours every night. It is the lonely, marginalised youngsters like the Finnish killer, who isolate themselves inside their own twisted worlds and violent virtual realities, that we need to worry about and try to identify in time. In our Finnish culture of silent consensus and not ever wanting to rock the boat, we need bravery to bring up any such concerns. We adults, parents and teachers, need to engage more closely in the lives of young people, our children and students.