School boards across Ontario have recently jumped on a new, techno-savvy bandwagon to assist students experiencing social stresses at school. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board announced in February that they planned to launch a mobile app, called “TipOff” that allows students to anonymously report when they’re being bullied.
According to Pam Reinholdt, the board’s superintendent of student achievement, the app will make it easier and more convenient for students to report incidents, as she claims students are reluctant to report when they are victims or witnesses. InTouch Mobile developed the app and the school boards hope by adopting the technology that more victims and witnesses will step forward.
This September, Global News reported on the app and posted the coverage to Global’s Youtube channel. Public opinion seemed to range from joy that the school board is reaching out to students via a medium that youth are familiar with, to skepticism that the app will be misused. For example, what happens if the app spirals into a he-said, she-said contraption in which a victim reports a bully and then the bully gathers a circle of friends to report the victim as the bully, therefore in a way bullying in another form?
Considering how easy it is to lie via text, it seems as though teachers and school board will have to do much more investigative work to validate the complaints. But isn’t part of the reason why social issues within the school system fall between the cracks is because many teachers are pressed for time and already jaded—trying to raise 30 plus children? Never mind having to act as the middleman, communicating between anonymous tips and students?
Cedar Hill Independent School District offers a similar iPhone and Android app, but the issue still stands: will teachers and the school board have the time and resources to address the problems students are facing, particularly with the closure and expansion within the Cedar school board?
To play devil’s advocate––say the app does catch on. How will this affect the social skills of students and development of the communication skills to speak up for themselves? What happens when students graduate from public and post-secondary and experience bullying in the workplace? Will there be an app for that as well, or will they be forced to face-to-face communication and have to risk revealing their identities?
Of course, isn’t “discrimination” just the grownup word for being “bullied”? Who can we send an anonymous tip to when our bosses refuse us a rightful promotion because of age, sex, gender, or appearance? The difference between youth and adults is that the older we get, the better we succeed at using language and persuasive argument to justify our personal prejudices. Maybe the Anonymous Bully App for Grownups could have a decoding system that would explain academic language, revealing the eloquently presented prejudice ideas that ultimately prevent us from moving forward in our thinking.
The difference is that as adults we sometimes––not always––but sometimes, are able to make the choice to walk away from bad situations, where we’re being treated unfairly in the workplace. As a public or high school student, you can often feel stuck in whatever situation you’re in.
In a CBC article reporting about the Hamilton board launching the app, Noah Parker, a communication officer with the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association points out that students “belong to a tech-savvy generation,” and they use mobile phones for “almost every aspect of their everyday lives,” which can both hamper and help in dealing with social matters.
The school boards involved in launching the app hope that by keeping up with the medium of today, help can be offered to those who need it. Let’s just hope the tool won’t be expected to be an alternative to honing communication skills that are needed to deal with grownup bullying.