More than 320 teachers from Gipuzkoa have been trained this year to prevent social media addiction among students. The sessions and workshops organised by Orainprebentzioa also captivate families.
The best school for the online world is, paradoxically, the one outside. The more strategies and abilities are developed in real life, on the ground, the better use will students make of social networks. The problem is that the theory is bruised with a pandemic that "we have spent moving between screens", jumping on the back of a technology that for teenagers is like air. But not everything is lost, "by no means". As noted by social educator Mikel Cerezo, every crisis is also an opportunity, and this is corroborated by the Orainprebentzioa Association, which he leads, that has developed a program in which teachers, parents and school students become active agents to make responsible use of social networks.
The association was born in 2003 with a team of educators and psychologists. It has a long history in addressing addictions to substances, mainly alcohol, cannabis and tobacco, both in adults and minors.
This prior knowledge allowed them to take on a new challenge in 2018: to prevent addictions without any substance, such as the abuse of new technologies. The program was launched together with the city council of Donostia and has been gradually extended to schools in other Gipuzkoan municipalities such as Errenteria, Lezo and Oiartzun, until reaching Irun.
"It all started when we started to see the growing problem of using social networks and new technologies. What we call behavioural addictions or without substances. At first they were videogames, or online games, to later extend to social networks", says Cerezo, who has dedicated half of his 41 years to preventive education, using the internet as the main protagonist.
According to the Basque Government's Education Inspectorate, 100 cases of bullying have been identified in schools in Euskadi, 25 per cent of them via the Internet.
It all starts with the creation of alternative groups on WhatsApp and those memes or stickers that ridicule the classmate that is being bullied. Situations that can occur outside the school environment but have an important impact within the classroom and the social or relational life of these same students.
The ikastola Santo Tomas Lizeoa started working with Orainprebentzioa Association four years ago. According to Oihane Peña, Compulsory Secondary Education (ESO), Counsellor, they saw the need for a systematic and continuous work with students over time. "We detected episodes related to harassment among equals on social networks, little awareness regarding privacy and security of personal data, and dissemination of images without consent".
This is due to excessive use of ICT without proper monitoring. "The main purpose was to accompany them at the beginning so that they can make responsible and healthy use", says Leire Orbegozo, who also works as a counsellor at that school and who has seen in the Teknia program of the Orainprebentzioa Association the best system to tackle what may become a problem.
This three-level training proposal has not ceased to win supporters over time. It started its journey in 2018 only for the teaching staff of Child Education, but soon it became necessary to expand the range. "Nowadays we work across the full spectrum of students: Primary, Secondary, High school, Basic Vocational Training, Middle and Higher grade education. All of them intervene in the training process, both students, teachers and also parents", says Cerezo.
In one-and-a-half hour sessions, they are taught about applications, social networks, youtubers, instagramers, tiktokers, streamers and influencers that attract children so much. "For them they are very important, with whom they build their digital identity, even if it seems to us something martian. Parents have to show interest in what their children do on social media, who the Youtubers that they follow are€ What TikTok is, maybe is convenient to download it", the social educator suggests.
A second training session addresses potential risks and their prevention before cyberbullying, sexting (sending messages with erotic content voluntarily) or grooming (online sexual harassment and abuse). Those are the biggest risks. The program offers guidelines on how to act and provides tools to make a more practical approach.
The goal is not to demonize social networks, by no means. They talk to the teachers so they know the risks. "They see it as very positive because we approach a reality that for some is known but for others is completely foreign". The first year 157 teachers were trained. In 2019 there were 198. In 2020, the programme felt the impact on the pandemic and the number of teachers fell to 120, but this year it has regained momentum and, during the first semester, a total of 320 teachers have already acquired skills to prevent the misuse of social networks.
The prevention plan, despite its laudable objective, has its difficulties and, above all, its limitations. To this date, 790 primary education teachers have participated in the project, a significant but small figure, given that in Basque education more than 12,000 teachers work in 540 public, private and concerted schools.
They also conduct workshops with students. In 2018, they got to 700 students, and since then, interest has continued to grow to reach the 1,500 who have already been trained between the last cycle of primary education (5th and 6th grades) and the four courses of secondary education. "Demand is growing. Word of mouth works. We started in schools in Donostialdea and this year Orereta ikastola and the Institute of Bidebieta (Bideberri) have also joined.
Santo Tomas Lizeoa is one of the centres that has bet the strongest. "The balance of the work performed is positive as it is a theme that is more present at the ikastola and the families. We think that students are more aware, although the age group influences the practice of this theory", according to the Secondary Education counsellor of the ikastola.
Behind this proposal there is a multidisciplinary team with pedagogical advice from the Elkarikertuz area of the Faculty of Education of the UPV/EHU. There is also a technical consultancy to keep up with the new platforms that are commercialized and the risks that may arise from them.
Another aspect to highlight is that from this year on the training has been completed with sessions aimed at families. "It was a request made to us by the centres. We were told that we had put their feet on the ground, that we had made them able to detect risk situations, but there was a lack of greater involvement of the students. The teachers proposed the following: "Can't parents get involved? After all, it is them who buy their children the mobile phones and latest gadgets with which they spend so many hours on the Internet", the Orainprebentzioa Association said.
Belén Peñalba did not think it twice. "During the lockdown, technology went straight into our house", says this mother of a 6th grade primary school student from Amara Berri public school. "There are very interesting matters to learn about. My daughter already knew that it is necessary to take precautions to avoid, for example, identity theft on the net, but it is not the same to only tell her at home or to hear it at school too". It ensures that the message sinks in when families, teachers and students go all to one.
As the Secondary Education's advisors say, it's not about demonizing new technologies. "They came to stay, and the goal must be to, between all of us, teach them to make a good use". Peñalba recognizes that he is trying to prolong "as much as possible" the moment when his daughter gets a mobile phone, convinced that the street is now "the only space without a screen".
This has not gone unnoticed in the eyes of experts. From the Orainprebentzioa Association they have confirmed the age of use of the first mobile phones has gradually decreased.
In 2018, when the program started, the phones were given almost exclusively in the transition from primary to secondary education. "Now in 6th grade there is a high percentage of students with a phone, and even in 5th grade (10-11 years)", says Cerezo.
From the Ikastola Santo Tomas Lizeoa corroborate that the age of onset is getting younger. "Our task will always be to accompany them in the process", says Orbegozo. And Cerezo adds that there is a lot that you learn along the way. "I learn a lot from the students. I give them talks, I explain a number of matters, and they do so with me. They tell me about the new apps they use and the social networks that emerge. I download them, I look at them. Try them... We all learn".