Teachers, pupils: no talking online

A survey by Yomiuri Shimbun found that 11 prefectures and three cities have banned middle and high school teachers from all communication with students through e-mail, messaging apps or phones after local boards of education found an increase in the number of teachers instigating obscene acts with students.

The prefectures of Fukushima, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gifu, Okayama, Hiroshima, Kagawa, Kochi, Saga and Oita as well as the cities of Kyoto, Okayama and Hiroshima all have bans apparently intended to prevent such problems.

The Tokyo board of education has not yet officially banned online contact, but it has suggested that teachers notify their supervisors when they contact students privately and try to avoid one-on-one contact by using group messages.

Punishing or firing the 205 teachers who were found to have committed obscene acts in 2013 is surely necessary, but even though that number is the highest ever, a blanket ban on all communication between teachers and students may not be the best solution.

To stop sexual harassment or obscene incidents, greater oversight, training and, when needed, investigation of teachers is needed. That takes time and effort, and in many cases, may not solve the problem. The behavior that should be targeted is teachers’ sexually harassing students or engaging in obscene acts with minor students — not all communication.

The vast majority of educators act responsibly in communicating with students, both inside and outside of school hours. In many cases, students have personal problems that they need to talk about with someone in private. Today, text messages and cellphones serve as a private space for confiding in problems.

That teachers take time from their own private life to help needy students shows just how demanding their work can be and how important their role is in many students’ lives. Students need someone to confide in who has experience, common-sense and a larger perspective. Teachers are often the one authority on whom some students can depend to act as a confidant, counselor and guide through the difficult years of adolescence.

As for the teachers who abuse their position, the boards of education should be strict and unhesitant in removing them from contact with students. At the same time, the education ministry and local boards of education should allow more opportunities for communication with students by hiring counselors, psychologists, social workers and specialists.

As those positions remain underfunded, teachers end up shouldering the burden of keeping troubled students in school, visiting their homes to be sure they are OK and providing guidance. To do that, they must communicate with them. Ban or no ban, students will continue to need professional, confidential help from teachers.