More than half of children in school will be studying Facebook rather than lessons, says a new study of more than 1,000 UK pupils.
Global Secure Systems (GSS), an IT security consultancy, found 52% of the 1,000 children aged between 13 and 17 who participated in the study confessed that they looked at social networking sites during lessons.
The survey, conducted through Facebook, aimed to discover just how widespread children's use of such sites at inappropriate times was. More than a quarter said they were Facebooking in class for more than 30 minutes a day.
David Hobson, managing director of GSS, made the initial discovery when he spent a day at a local public school speaking to its pupils about internet ethics and behaviour. During his presentation to 13-year-olds, who were all diligently tapping away on their laptops, he asked how many had visited social networking sites during their lessons. He was shocked when they all raised their hands. This ignited his determination to uncover if this was an isolated case or whether it was rife among school children.
"I am disturbed, but not surprised, by the findings," he said. He was concerned for the safety of youngsters on the web and worried by time lost for lessons.
"The time youngsters spend on the internet, and more specifically on social networking sites, is a huge challenge for parents and those of us in education," said Toby Mullins, head of Seaford College.
"Youngsters are not only using lesson time but often quietly continue late into the night, leaving them short of sleep and irritable the next day. I think a study like this to highlight the problem is very timely. We now need to plan for a solution."
Hobson said, "Kids are spending up to 2.5 hours a week of lessons on Facebook. I recognise that there is a place for social networking, with a whole new generation now relying on it to communicate, but not at the expense of an education. Schools could learn a lesson from industry and ensure school children use the internet productively. With the right software it is easy to limit access to inappropriate websites or limit it to break-time."
A separate GSS poll conducted with Infosecurity Europe 2008 discovered that social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Bebo are costing UK corporations close to £6.5 billion a year in lost productivity.
GSS itself clamped down on social networking during working hours. When asked for more bandwidth, Hobson analysed the company's traffic and discovered that it could save the cost of the upgrade simply by restricting the times people could access social network sites to lunchtimes and after hours.