Should students be allowed to use Wikipedia as a source?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2011, 12:00am


Matthew Murchie, 17, St Joseph's College

Wikipedia is 'free' - not in a monetary sense, but rather in the way that it can be freely edited by anyone with access to the internet. This freedom is considered to be both Wikipedia's biggest attribute - and its greatest source of criticism.

On the one hand, this makes it possible for anyone with knowledge in a particular field to improve and amend articles. On the other hand, it leaves the website vulnerable to entries that are biased and inaccurate.

This potential unreliability has led to strong opposition of the use of Wikipedia as a reference in homework. But a 2005 study in the journal, Nature, and reviews over the past few years have found that the accuracy of Wikipedia is surprisingly high - matching even that of Encyclopedia Britannica. Since its articles are constantly reviewed, Wikipedia has proved to be a very up-to-date, highly accurate source of information.

Teachers fear students who use Wikipedia will become lazy because it can be easily accessed.

Yes. Looking up information on Wikipedia is simple, but that is no reason why it should be banned as a source for homework. Wikipedia articles can provide a clear and comprehensive overview of a topic. Students can decide whether its information is good enough to be used.

Considering the accuracy of and easy access to Wikipedia, I believe it should be allowed as a legitimate source of information for students.

Elise Choi, 16, Sai Kung Sung Tsun Catholic School

Whenever students are given a piece of homework that requires a lot of research - for example, doing a project or writing a biography - they often go to Wikipedia to find the answers.

Yet do they learn anything by doing this? I know it can be hard to find good, accurate information on the web. But surely they should check the facts before handing in their homework?

Many students simply copy text from Wikipedia in their assignments. It makes no sense: their reading and writing skills - and creativity - will never improve. It also makes them lazy.

Since anyone can be an editor of Wikipedia's references, often the accuracy of its information cannot be verified. Students are the future of society, so if they learn something that is wrong - and no one corrects them - they will pass on this mistake to the next generation. Then the cycle will continue.

Some people can deliberately post fake or misleading information on Wikipedia. Many students, who have only a limited knowledge of the world, can be fooled easily.

Students using information from Wikipedia might also be breaking copyright laws. This could land them in serious trouble.

There are many reliable alternatives to using Wikipedia. Libraries have extensive resources that are very useful and accurate. Numerous official websites, such as those set up by the government, also provide reliable reference materials.