• Therese

In the name of the law.

Updated: Jan 7

Issues of law, regulations and policies relevant to digital and collaborative learning applied in a special school context.

The Education Act 1989 provides teachers and authorised staff with certain powers to manage an incident involving students’ inappropriate use of digital devices. As educators we would expect that the interpretation of laws, regulations and policies won't interfere with the learning process which, if done well, enjoys chaos and may even be dangerous. It’s the chaos and a certain amount of danger that creates meaning in context for students. We keep students safe from harm, not free from it.

It was simpler when the curriculum was the five Rs, reading, writing, arithmetic, remembering and regurgitating. The curriculum was more familiar to the adult than to the student. Schools encouraged uniformity rather than diversity.

In 2020 educators are required to move towards co-creating a curriculum with the community, the child at the centre, sometimes in unfamiliar contexts. This requires a certain amount of respect for others’ values, values sometimes different from their own.

The values that underpin the NZ Teachers Codes and standards describe the expectations of effective teaching practice and guide decision making, while the student drives the process. In practice this relies on the educator knowing themselves and what they value so as to know the child.

When working with students with special needs as they navigate social media, educators need a balanced perspective of students' needs, a good knowledge of the computer culture and a willingness to find out. Educators consider laws, regulations and policies to gain confidence giving students the freedom to explore online connections and learn from mistakes in a safe, learning environment.

  • The Ministry of Social Development describes “social connectedness as “a key driver of wellbeing and resilience”. As educators we are called to prepare ourselves with the knowledge necessary to support students to understand the situations they might find themselves in, working alongside students within different learning contexts.

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) is a comprehensive human rights treaty that enshrines specific children's rights in international law. There are eight guiding principles that underlie the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They refer to respect, effective participation, inclusion and freedom to make one’s own choices. Laws and regulations are the safety structures that ensure students have the opportunity to learn from the natural consequences of their actions while preserving the dignity of the child.

  • The Office for Disability Issues captures student voice, “Our learning pathway supports us to develop friendships and social skills, as well as resilience, determination and confidence ... and prepares us for life beyond compulsory education”. Social media is an appropriate context for all adolescents to learn social skills. Knowing students’ needs and wants gives educators the confidence to allow students to explore social media and to reflect on consequences.

  • The Education and Training Act 2020 contains provisions that are relevant to how schools should manage incidents involving digital technology. It is up to the skill of the educator to decide what constitutes an “incident”. There is a danger of being overly cautious in the name of safety.

  • Stories can spread like wildfire, all stories are real, some of them actually happen. Adolescents will be acutely aware of their peers and their surroundings while not necessarily having an understanding of what is happening. Adults need to be aware of the impact on all students as they manage incidents, not just those directly involved. Students need educators who know how to and whether to act.

The purpose of the digital technology Safe and Responsible use in schools guide is to support schools in the management of safe and responsible use of digital technology for learning. It is important for schools to use this guide as a structure to expose students to online experiences. It is our responsibility as educators to ensure students are prepared for different eventualities beyond school.

The laws, regulations and policies are there to protect our children. Protecting our children, especially those most vulnerable, relies on educators who understand that we don’t keep children free from harm but safe from it.

Pauline Joyce, Paula Kinnarney. (2014) Leading change as a professional: working across boundaries. Action Learning: Research and Practice 11:2, pages 167-178.


Bottery, M. (2006). Education and globalization: redefining the role of the educational professional. Educational Review, 58(1), 95–113.


The Code and Your Rights - Health and Disability Commissioner. (2019). Te Toihau Hauora. Hauatanga. https://www.hdc.org.nz/disability/the-code-and-your-rights/


United Nations Enable. (2015, June 1). Guiding Principles of the Convention. https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities/guiding-principles-of-the-convention.html


OHCHR | International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. (1996). Https://Www.Ohchr.Org/En/Professionalinterest/Pages/Ccpr.Aspx.


Zealand, E. I. N. (2020). Digital technology safe use guide for schools. Education in New Zealand. https://www.education.govt.nz/school/digital-technology/digital-technology-guide-for-schools/


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