Law and Ethics



GIRL A’s parents believe that the internet is evil  and do not allow her access to it.

The dilemma is that the teacher will not be able to prepare that child for life in the 21st century where effective use of  technology is a key skill.



Teachers are bound by the  The Education Council Code of Ethics for Certficated Teachers  which clearly state that teachers have a clear commitment to parents ‘although professional decisions must always be weighted towards what is judged to be the best interests of learners‘.   The code makes it clear that the ‘ primary professional obligation of registered teachers is to those they teach.’   The case, therefore appears simple: the school should ignore the request of the parents and allow the student access to the internet.  What happened, of course, was that the parents’ wishes were respected.


According to Collste (2012)  the purpose of a professional ethical code is that it  ‘can help and guide professionals facing difficult moral decisions’  and the code can be ‘a reference for those professionals who want to act in a morally correct manner’  (p.30).    Abiding, by the code should have meant that allowing the student internet access was a straightforward decision.  Of course it wasn’t.

The problem is that the “best interests of learners’ ” is open to interpretation.  Does it apply in a purely educational context or should it be understood holistically?  Perhaps the need to ‘promote the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing of learners’  over-rides the requirement for teachers  to  ‘base their professional practice on continuous professional learning (and) the best knowledge available about curriculum content and pedagogy‘.  (Education Council New Zealand, n.d.)  Who is to say what the ’emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing of learners’ even looks like?  Teachers and parents might well have very different interpretations.   Should we respect the autonomy of parents, over the autonomy of students?    Interpreting the code clearly raises many questions.


Perhaps we can solve the problem using  the ethical theory of utilitarianism.    This tells us that the ‘morally right action is the action that produces the most good’  (Driver, 2009).  The trouble of course is interpreting what ‘good’ means.   Is this ‘good’ from the parents’ perspective or the teachers’?    Alternatively, we could apply the principle of ‘reflective equilibrium’   where all parties are involved in the debate about the right way forward (Collste, 2012 p24).  This was attempted in the case with the student , but failed due the rigid views of the parents.  If we apply virtue ethics the right decision will be made by the ‘ virtuous professional’  who has acquired the capacity to make right decisions through reflective practice.  (Collste, 2012, p.31)   However, what happens when the views of the ‘virtuous professional’ are disregarded?   We could apply Kant’s categorical imperative:  act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.    However,  what happens when both sides in an argument happily wish that their solution be applied universally?

At the end of the day,  making ethical decisions is a matter of perspective.   When taken from the teaching perspective, the solution to the dilemma was straightforward: allow access to the internet.   However, schools also take parental  perspectives into account.  In this case, fear of upsetting parents, fear of negative publicity and upsetting religious communities resulted in the code being interpreted in a manner that placated the parents.   In my view this is wrong,  but I accept that only a very brave school would have acted differently.


Collste, G. (2012). Applied and professional ethics. KEMANUSIAAN, 19(1), 17-33. Retrieved from

Driver, J. (2009). The history of utilitarianism. In Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy. Retrieved from

Education Council New Zealand. (n.d.). Code of ethics for certificated teachers | education council. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2015, November 14). Categorical imperative. Retrieved November 15, 2015, from

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