BY KATHRYN TORNEY
ktorney at belfasttelegraph.co.uk
PARENTS should be allowed to withdraw their children from wireless computer network areas within Northern Ireland’s schools, a teaching union has claimed.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has challenged the government’s position that there is no risk to pupils in schools from Wi-Fi.
ATL director Mark Langhammer commented said: “A safety-first approach would oblige governors and education employers to monitor and report on Wi-Fi provision in schools.
“It could allow for parents to withdraw their children from Wi-Fi areas of the school and it would oblige government to test and measure, based on biological, as well as thermal criterion.”
A Lisburn school principal has already disconnected his school’s Wi-Fi equipment after a parent approached him about health concerns linked to the technology, Ian Thomson, from Ballinderry Primary, said: “The PTA member was concerned about the possible adverse effects of the radiation produced by the Wi-Fi equipment.
“I wondered if the advantages of Wi-Fi outweighed the risks to the children and staff. I looked at evidence from both sides and have decided not to use this new technology in our school at present.”
Professor Olle Johansson, one of the world’s leading experts on the effects of Wi-Fi addressed politicians at Stormont on Tuesday.
Dr Johansson, who lectures at Sweden’s Nobel prize-winning Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, featured in the controversial BBC Panorama programme “Wi-Fi: A Warning Signal”.
During his presentation at Stormont, he raised the possibility of health risks from Wi-Fi for children and staff in schools.
Voice, a union for education professionals, has called on the government to commission a full scientific investigation into the effects of wireless technology in schools.
Walter Graham, a local campaigner who invited Professor Johansson to Northern Ireland, is concerned about radiation being introduced to schools.
He said: “As a parent of two children at different schools, I find it quite surprising that I have never been informed that Wi-Fi was being installed in their classrooms and of any possible dangers associated with the technology.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said: “The welfare and safety of children and staff in school is paramount. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has consistently advised that it does not consider there to be a problem with the safety of wireless computer networks (WiFi).
“The HPA announced in October 2007, that it will conduct a systematic programme of research over a period of two years which will include the investigation of levels of exposure from WiFi networks. The Department will monitor the progress of the HPA programme of research.
“Classroom 2000 (C2k) does not currently use WiFi for widespread connectivity of its equipment but has supported schools in limited deployment. WiFi is likely to be used in more schools as ICT use for teaching and learning expands.
“Best advice at present indicates that the risk to health from WiFi radiation is very low and that WiFi equipment satisfies international guidelines,” said the spokeswoman.