If you’re reading this at school, chances are you’ve just tried to open up a site online, or maybe play some Fortnite, but found that your school has been blocking some (or many) online resources. While these web filters exist for protective reasons, you should know how to bypass these website blocks safely instead of otherwise, especially if they are overly restrictive. Some schools might even have a blanket ban on anything that isn’t an educational resource – their own websites, online libraries, Wikipedia, and such.
You could get in trouble, either way, so we’ll assume you’ll be taking responsible decisions. The most surefire method of online freedom AND privacy is to use a Virtual Private Network that will change your digital address and location, allowing you virtually anonymous access to everything. Some VPNs, such as SurfShark allow you to use them at once on your mobile, laptop and school computers. You can always check out a SurfShark review to see if it’s the right fit for you.
Why do schools block websites at all?
Understanding this is the first step towards bypassing the restrictions in an informed and responsible manner. Ultimately, the filters exist to uphold this very responsibility. To start with, schools have been required to do this by law in the United States; The Children’s Internet Protection Act, passed in the year 2000, strives to protect young people from harmful or obscene online material.
While that should only seem to cover obviously questionable and inappropriate material, your Technology Director at school (or any concerned administration) might also realize the dangers of cyber-bullying, predators and scammers and illegal activity (such as sharing pirated material). All this would reflect poorly on the school and leave them liable to legal damages as well as an outcry from everyone’s parents. While you, reading this article, might be a responsible student, you cannot assume the same of everyone.
And of course, some resources such as Netflix and YouTube would be blacklisted to ensure you’re not distracted too much during your school hours. While these reasons are understandable, the students also have reasons of their own to be able to bypass the WiFi blacklist.
What do students want to do on school WiFi?
Schools govern the online activity of students through an Acceptable Use Policy. However, in all likelihood, unless someone uses a school connection for any fraudulent/criminal activity (not recommended), the AUP is fair game. It would be unfair to assume that every student is just looking to cause trouble on the Internet. A lot of schools are overly paranoid and instead of employing a blacklist that filters out troublesome sites, instead go for whitelists that only let you access certain sites.
Your learning might be affected when you can’t approach a topic freely from all angles. We all know about how schools might interfere and discriminate on political or religious grounds – and might use your browsing history to do so. A VPN essentially hides your online identity from your ISP and, by extension, from your school.
With students spending longer and longer periods in school and with a lot of downtime between classes, you might find yourself tempted to relax your mind by watching something or playing a game. If you act responsibly and choose to take such a decision, you should be able to do it in a safe way.
Is a VPN my only solution?
In a word, yes.
Student pricing plans exist on most VPNs. For example, you can subscribe to the aforementioned SurfShark at just two dollars a month with a 30-day money back guarantee, should you ever feel your data or identity doesn’t feel as secure. VPNs can also unblock you from geographical restrictions well beyond your school, such as accessing material only available outside your country.
While you should remain responsible as a student, part of that responsibility also involves exercising your own judgment. You should be able to protect yourself while knowing what to do and where and how to do it.