TEACHERS must keep ahead of the technology curve if they are to tackle cyber bullying in schools, experts have warned.
General secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI), Pat King, yesterday described the suspension of four students at a south Dublin school for allegedly making abusive comments about teachers on Facebook as a "very sensitive incident".
The four at Oatlands College in Stillorgan were reported to have made abusive remarks of a sexual nature against a male and female teacher and offensive remarks about a third teacher.
They were suspended for 20 days and could be expelled.
Speaking on RTE Radio's 'News At One', Mr King refused to comment further as "there's a process ongoing in the school".
Referring to cyber bullying in general, he said schools must keep up to date with developments in technology in order to effectively combat this form of abuse.
"That's the big challenge for teachers, to keep ahead of the curve with technology.
"What goes on in schools very much reflects what's going on in society.
"There's good and decent in society and there's ugly and cruel in society and children and students bring what's happening outside into the schoolroom and into school yards.
"Teachers and schools have to deal with that and have to set up structures and procedures to deal with it," he added.
He said parents should also be aware of what their children are doing -- a sentiment echoed by Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O'Connor, a former school principal
She said she hoped the new anti-bullying forum announced by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn over the weekend will look at how school boards can tackle bullying that takes place outside of school hours, particularly on the internet.
"It is important to point out the crucial role of parents in identifying and addressing bullying, whether their child be the perpetrator or the victim. Parents have a particular duty to monitor what their children are doing on the internet.
"A worrying issue which is on the increase is the targeting of teachers on the internet. Online innuendo, which is often of a sexual nature, can cause considerable upset to victims," she added.
The Growing Up in Ireland study found that one-in-five children reported being the victim of bullying via electronic means -- the majority of these were bullied via text messages.
Meanwhile, the INTO said cyber bullying is less of an issue at primary level -- although it is still a problem.
INTO equality officer Deirdre O'Connor said Facebook and other forms off social media were not widely used among primary school children because of nominal age controls.
Also, parents tend to keep a closer eye on younger children.
But she said bullying via text messaging is on the rise, particularly child to child, although there have been isolated incidents of child to teacher.
Most text-message bullying takes place outside of school hours because most schools ban the use of mobiles.
This poses a particular problem for teachers when parents try to get schools to intervene to solve the problem, she added.