A “no smartphone” pledge adopted by across eight primary schools in Greystones, Co Wicklow, could be extended countrywide, Minister for Education Norma Foley has said.
Ms Foley said her department’s research into cyberbullying found that parents and children were “terrified by the wild west world of phones” and that schools should provide a “safe and secure” setting for young people to excel in.
It was for this reason, she said, she was very interested in recent coverage of a group of eight primary schools in Greystones where parents’ associations have agreed a “no smartphone voluntary code” until children start secondary school. The move followed rising concern locally over anxiety levels among pupils and early exposure to adult material online.
The “It takes a village” initiative, led by Rachel Harper, principal of St Patrick’s National School, aims to provide cross-community support and access to counselling or play therapy for vulnerable young children in the area.
“It is early days, but I believe we can learn from this model and see if it can be replicated in schools and classrooms around the country,” Ms Foley said.
“What stood out to me most about the Greystones project was the whole community buy-in from parents in every class in every school. There was no high-level diktat, but instead these schools undertook the much more intensive work of persuasion and discussion to best provide a path forward for their community.”
She was speaking at a Children’s Rights Alliance Ireland event, co-sponsored by the National Parents Council and the Irish Second-level Students’ Union.
Ms Foley said cyberbullying emerged as the “single most pressing issue for young people and their parents” during consultations as part of her department’s latest action plan on bullying.
“For better or for worse, these devices and platforms are here to stay. It is incumbent on all of us within the school community to provide safe and secure spaces that allow all young people to achieve and excel in school without what they themselves describe as Fomo — fear of missing out,” she said.
She added that schools, parents and the wider community need to work together to address many of these challenges.
“As the Greystones model illustrates there is power in community, there is power in collective. A significant learning outcome and reminder for all of us in the education sector,” she said.
Social media firms, meanwhile, have faced calls to do more to stop the sharing of inappropriate content, enforce minimum age limits and create default settings for children with high safety standards.
The online safety commissioner, Niamh Hodnett, said recently she had to ask some social media platforms to take down a video shared more than five million times concerning an alleged hate-based attack on a schoolboy in Navan.