One in six schools block Wikipedia

This morning's Sydney Morning Herald ran an education story "Teaching the Facebook Generation". The overall piece looks at how social media impacts on the relationship between students and teachers, and is worth a read to understand some of the issues faced in today's school environment, where Web 2.0 has both upsides and downsides.

What caught me eye was some numbers on the proportion of Australian schools which block various websites:

  • 86% of schools block Facebook
  • 57% of schools block YouTube
  • 14% of schools block Wikipedia

These stats are from the 2009 report "Web 2.0 site blocking in schools" from the Strategic ICT Advisory Service, which is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.

I understand the block on facebook in schools (although it's a little futile, because most students who want to can get to it any time that they want from their phone), and I kind of understand the YouTube block (although, some of best educational learning resources, like the 2,000+ videos Khan Academy for maths, get swept up into the all-encompassing ban, depriving students in the classroom of the chance to learn alongside the students who have taken 40 million free lessons on Khan Academy).

What surprised me was that 1 in 6 schools block Wikipedia. Okay, not everything in it is 100% accurate, but researchers have demonstrated it is as accurate as conventional encyclopaedia's (and Wikipedia itself has an excellent self-reflective article on it's own accuracy). My daughter came home from school with a project on Antartica exploration, with specific instructions from her teacher that she must not use Wikipedia for her research.

What worries me is that we're already falling behind with testing students for the skills needed for the 21st Century workplace - but are the technology restrictions meaning that we are also failing to teach the skills they need? For example, if so much of modern business involves integrating the web (eg a marketing agency with no skills in social networking will soon be an ex-marketing agency), how do we teach the skills the students will need as they move into the workplace? As businesses create their own internal social networks, wikis and information marketplaces, what's the correct way for a school to keep up with the skills and technology needed, whilst fulfilling their duty of care to their students.

Most IT managers I've met in schools focus on the systems and processes (for example, they think about SharePoint as a way of controlling information flow and processes), whereas exactly the same systems could be turned upside down - put the user in control, and enable social networking and wikis within the safe environment of a school community. Is that what's happening in most schools? Or is it easy to ban something, but tricky to enable an alternative?

Comments (11)

  1. Mom of 2 says:

    I have to say, this is disappointing.  We should be teaching our children information literacy – how to use the technologies and information at their disposal and discern truth from fiction.  Wikipedia is a great source for starting research, but teachers also insist (as they should) that students use additional sources to back up what they find there.

  2. Alan RIchards says:

    I have to admit I find this quite amazing, especially the instruction to not use Wikipedia. As a School IT manager in the UK I obviously have to enable some forms of filtering as a duty of care, but wouldn't it be better to teach them to use the web responsibly rather than always trying to ban it or block it.

  3. Fred Bauder says:

    And you elect people who run a school devoted to ignorance rather than learning and pay taxes to support it?

  4. Liam Wyatt says:

    On the flip side you could say that banning Wikipedia in schools is the best publicity that it could get… What better way to get kids to want to go home and illicitly read an encyclopedia, learning secretly hoping they don't get caught! I think you can put blocking Wikipedia up there with banning rock & roll and abstinence-only sex education as effective strategies, they only cause the opposite to occur. 🙂

    Instead, it would make more sence to teach kids how to "practice safe Wikipedia" rather than abstaining from it – what Wikipedia teaches is not that some sources are "good" and others "bad" but that all knowledge no matter who the publisher should be contested and checked against other sources.

  5. Ray Fleming says:


    What a clever point – I hadn't even been thinking about it from that perspective, but perhaps you are right – I doubt it's the reason that it was done, but then there may be a clever psychologist in the 14% of schools that are blocking it…


  6. Duncan Hill says:

    Wikipedia can be terribly inaccurate in my experience, particularly on the less popular articles edited by a few people.

    There is a large element of elitism and bullying, particularly to newcomers. I myself have recieved abuse from other members, including moderators. There is a "one edit, one vote" policy.

    Finally, there's a certain amount of bias on various subjects, particularly a definite American slant.

    I myself would block Wikipedia if I was a school headmaster, there are much better resources out there.

  7. Sellyme says:

    @Duncan Hill "there are much better resources out there."

    Erm, if you actually read the article, no there aren't. –…/4530930.stm

  8. C. Smythe says:

    I do much research on line and I resent the fact that wikipedia paid it's way to the top of search lists. They certainly are NOT good enough to be first. If only I could blok the useless site from my Bing and duckduck searches. I am not using google anymore partly because of their support for wikipedia . . .

  9. Alli says:

    @C. Smythe:  everyone pays to be at the top of a list, not just Wikipedia.  For example, when you Google search "ducks" the first site to come up is for and the official website for the Anaheim Ducks NHL team.  These companies paid to be at the top of that list, even though they do not necessarily match what I am searching for. That's how search engines work and how they make money.

  10. TWW says:

    This is very disappointing. All schools should block Wikipedia, or at the least educate their children with enough information literacy that they will know to block it themselves.

    BTW, when searching you can block WP results by adding "" to the end of the search string and some browswers allow you to add text to the search string automatically so you can always avoid the site when using the browser's search box. I've been doing this for years on Opera.

  11. UK school teacher says:

    As a teacher of physics and computing I find that all resources are prone to mistakes, including textbooks, which are often riddled with errors. Wikipedia can certainly contain errors but by and large it is a very good resource. What we need to do is teach children to critically evaluate all of their resources. Banning Wikipedia from schools is a terrible move, not only because it means that students lose access to an excellent resource, but because it seems to suggest that content that is not banned is reliable, which it isn’t.

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