Apparently February 17 is the national internet safety day in Israel. Honoring this occasion, the Ministry of Education published results of a survey among school-age students about their use of the internet (HE). They surveyed 16,702 students from 234 schools, covering grades 5, 8, and 11.
Here are some highlights:
- 95% of the students have access to computer with an internet connection.
- Most parents don’t really care what their kids are doing online or how much they spend there. For example, 67% of the parents do not limit the time their kids can spend online, 53% do not express any interest about what they are doing there, and only 22% are using filtering software.
- Most of the students are rather pragmatic in their use of the internet. 81% of the students are looking for any information online (not surprising, but interesting number), 77% are playing online games, 68% utilize the web for their studies, 66% use it to communicate with their peers, and 63% download music.
- It also looks most of the students are rather thoughtful in their use of the internet. 72% explicitly stated that they are aware of the dangers of the internet and “consult or check” before giving away identifiable information (71% are using a screen name) and 14% of the students admitted that they are exposed to adult content.
- Online ethics and copyright awareness are not as strong. 30% of the students are convinced that they can download anything they want from the internet and similar proportion of the students are convinced that they can download papers from the internet for class submission (this one is rather worrying result in my eyes).
- Some results are not as clear. For example, 40% of the students are convinces that internet is a free place where you can copy or use anything you want. I am not sure what exactly the Ministry people were trying to achieve in this question and how we should read it, but they presented it as a negative phenomenon.
As I said, the report is released in the context of “internet safety day.” As such, it is framed so that we would appreciate the dangers children are exposed to online. This is particularly evident in the emphasis on the fact that parents do not care much about what their kids are doing online and an explicit attempt to emphasize that significant percentage are exposed to adult content, as well as to suggest that the kids are not careful enough in online interactions.
However, I think the results actually show that the Israeli youth are very thoughtful users of the Internet. I have no tools to judge how many teenagers are exposed to adult content in the offline world, but 14% does not seem like a frightening figure (of course it is self reported, so the actual figure is probably higher). At the same time, the main uses of the medium are mostly positive and most of the youths are careful about how they behave online and how they expose themselves to strangers.
The Ministry of Education is taking credit for the positive trends (even though longitudinal data would help) and probably rightfully so . I think it is an important argument in the discussions about internet filtering under the claim of protecting the kids. First, we can see that the situation is not as horrible as some proponents of filtering suggest (unless, of course, looking for information online is considered negative/dangerous behavior in some communities). Second, if the Ministry of Education is right that the current situation is a result of educational efforts, it shows that resources spent in that direction do bear fruit.
Having said that, it is important to note that my entire discussion is based on a press release from the ministry. In other words, all the data above was selected and framed by the ministry to serve a purpose. It would be of course much more useful if the ministry would publish the detailed report, including the instruments they’ve used and the responses they’ve got. For example, it would be really interesting to see age difference in the attitudes and uses of the internet. It would be also interesting to see how different socioeconomic groups interact with the medium. Finally, as I have mentioned above, presenting longitudinal data (if it exists) would be very helpful. Do you think it is too much to ask for a complete report? Or perhaps it is available somewhere out there and you could point me to it?