Scratch blocks 200,000 kids because of one 10-year old’s stupid name

30seiz7Now I love Scratch for teaching kids programming. Version 2 came out last year and is a great step forward, but being browser-based comes with some issues. Let me recount one of those issues.

Last week when my High School programming group started up Scratch they were confronted with a message saying that their access was blocked because of activity from the IP address that had breach the Scratch community standards. I looked at them severely, but thought it unlikely they had done anything and so contacted Scratch directly to find out what had happened.

The lovely people at Scratch got back to me within 24 hours and explained that someone had an inappropriate name and someone else had put up a game that was too violent. Fair enough as far as it went, but a little bit of digging revealed that (a) the people involved weren’t in my group and (b) they were 9 and 10 years old – too young for High School.

My first thought was that there had been a mistake but Scratch confirmed the details. It then became apparent that the IP address we were using in the High School must be being shared by another school, which was where the inappropriate activity had occurred. Yet more digging and yet more very helpful people, this time at the NSW Department of Education. It turns out, though, that the IP address was being shared not by one or two schools but by a mind-boggling 2,300 schools.

So because a 9-year-old does a mildly stupid thing something like 200,000 students have their access to Scratch blocked. There is something wrong with that picture.

Individual schools, students and teachers are caught squarely between the controlling architecture of the Department of Education and Scratch’s attempts to police its community based on IP addresses. While Scratch has given some thought, but found no solution, to this type of problem it is all in the US context where a few schools might share a network. There’s nothing out there like the behemoth that the Department of Education has created here. Sadly, the Scratch administrators just can’t get their heads around the issue we face: After some discussion, the people from Scratch left me with the advice that I should talk to the other schools involved and ensure that they maintained community standards. How on earth can I talk to, let alone police, 2300 schools?

Scratch is the perfect tool for introducing students to coding, but you have to be able to rely on your tool. Standing up the front of a room full of kids who have never tried coding before and then having access to your teaching tool blocked is literally the stuff of nightmares; and Scratch is doing itself a great disservice by not finding a better way of policing the community.

Image: Scratch.

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