Don't befriend students: Mumbai schools tell teaching staff

With rising cases of teachers becoming victims of cyber-bullying, city schools tell their staff to keep low profile on the Internet

Last month, a 16-year-old was booked by the Cyber Police Station at Bandra Kurla Complex and charged with impersonation and defamation under the Indian Penal Code and relevant sections of the Information Technology Act, for creating a fake Facebook profile of his teacher and attempting to malign her reputation.

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This isn’t a lone case. A random search on the Internet, will throw up numerous cases over the last few years when students — irked by a teacher's behaviour — have responded by maligning them on social media.

Now, schools have responded to the situation by asking their teachers to keep their Internet usage in check and, more importantly, not befriend a student on social media sites like Facebook.

With the problem growing more intense in the last two years, schools such as SVP School and TP Bhatia College in Kandivli have started conducting workshops for teachers, to create awareness about what it means to be on such platforms along with students.

“WhatsApp, Facebook, as well as Twitter, become easy platforms to target people, because the perpetrator can remain anonymous. So, we have explained to our teachers the need to avoid such platforms altogether if need be,” says Sangeeta Srivastava, principal of the institute.

At Khar’s Kamla High School, teachers have been asked not to accept friend requests from students who are still in school. “There needs to be a clear distinction between personal and professional lives,” said Rekha Shahani, the school’s trustee.

Female teachers — who are found to be soft targets — have especially been asked to avoid posting pictures of themselves. At the workshops, teachers are taught about privacy settings that will help protect their data, such as private photographs. More importantly, they are also made aware of what constitutes cyber bullying.

One can't put a number on the frequency of the cases, says Arundhati Chavan, president of PTA United Forum, because most often teachers don't report such cases. She recently got complaints from three teachers in separate incidents.

“In one case the teacher refused to inform her school management even after being stalked by a student on Facebook. She eventually deleted her account and also took a transfer to another school. Similarly, in two other cases we managed to convince teachers to take up the matter with their schools, and, while the managements took up the matter and punished the children, they asked all parties to sign non-disclosure documents,” Chavan adds.

What PTAUF is currently working on is conducting workshops for parents, hoping that it will educate the students as well. The problem, adds Shahani, is that most schools don’t want to take strict action against their students. Suspending students is an extreme step and a school counselor is often the go-to personal for a solution.

“However, students continue to hold grudges. So, at our workshops we also conducted sessions with students. Once we are able to identify which students have a problem with a teacher, we conduct sessions with the class and the teacher who sit with the school counselor,” she says.

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