Conference unites student voices

The youth at the Student Voice BC Okanagan Regional Forum showed they have a good grasp of the positives and negatives of the use of technology.

Courtney Woo (left) and Sonia Kelly

Courtney Woo (left) and Sonia Kelly

The youth at the Student Voice BC Okanagan Regional Forum showed they have a good grasp of the positives and negatives of the use of technology.

The conference brought more than 40 student representatives and their teacher reps from around the Okanagan together to discuss ethical behaviours and technology.

The presentations after group discussions raised a variety of issues, including, cyber-bullying, how much personal information is available to anyone on the internet, how far “rumours” can spread, how anonymity gives people courage to say things they would never say in person, misinformation, the ability to do serious research quickly, the development of a new social etiquette, on-line support groups, making and keeping in touch with friends in other countries, new ways to cheat at school because students can buy essays online, a sense of invincibility and increased danger to people who do not know how to safely use technology such as social networks.

“Student Voice is a way for students to give opinions, to tell administrators what they think, with the results from forums going to the Ministry of Education,” said Courtney Woo, a Grade 10 Kalamalka secondary student who is an Okanagan Student Voice representative. “We are talking about how the world is changing because of technology, how things like a student being attacked at a party can be filmed and put on YouTube for everyone to see, and how to be careful and responsible in using technology.”

Sonia Kelly, Grade 10, Kalamalka secondary, is also an Okanagan Student Voice representative.

“We have been talking about how ethical behaviour can be maintained when people’s behaviour in general is being changed because of technology. I personally try not to use social networking too much and be careful about what information I am sharing,” she said.

Kelly and Woo will be attending a BC Student Voice provincial forum in Vancouver in April.

Speaker Const. Kathy Szoboticsanec, RCMP school liaison officer, told the forum that technology has changed life for people of all ages.

“We are now talking at elementary schools about things that used to be dealt with at high school,” she said. “I sometimes get called to a school to see threats on Facebook pages. When I ask the person who wrote the threats to read them out loud, it’s hard for them, they wouldn’t say it to a person’s face. A lot of the things posted that I deal with are in fact criminal offences.”

The internet can be used for the offences of uttering threats, harassment, extortion, and when pictures are involved the offences are also serious.

“If someone under 18 posts an inappropriate picture of themselves of someone else to even one person, it can get posted all over the world. That can be possession of or distribution of child pornography and those are chargeable offences. What is it going to look like when you go to apply to university or for a job or to volunteer and there’s something like that on your record? You can be placed on a list of sexual offenders. It can affect you for the rest of your life,” said Szoboticsanec.

She urged the students to think carefully about what they post, no matter how funny or innocent it seems.

The discussion also touched on how photos can be manipulated and a person’s face put on an inappropriate photo that they had nothing to do with.

Szoboticsanec said while technology is making her job and that of all police more difficult, it is also making it easier as personal videos can be used as police evidence.

“You may think it’s cool but it’s not so cool when a cop gets a hold of it. You can make a difference when you see something that is inappropriate or unacceptable. Refuse to watch it, don’t take part or, if someone is getting hurt, tell someone who can stop it: your parents, teachers or the police. As a police officer, I deal with the victims and families involved and it can be very difficult what they go through, even the suicides of young people who are bullied,” she said.

Anyone who is involved in any way with making or sending videos or messages that hurt someone in some way becomes responsible, as a witness or a suspect.

“I want to draw awareness to this because using technology responsibly can save a life or a reputation. I’m impressed with the ideas you have brought up here today and I hope you will take this back to your schools,” she said.

The students ended the day with developing plans to improve ethical behaviour with technology in their schools.

Students from A.L. Fortune, Charles Bloom, Clarence Fulton, Kalamalka, Vernon, W.L. Seaton, Mt. Boucherie and Salmon Arm also attended. Guests were Vernon School District superintendent Bev Rundell and director of student learning Joe Rogers.