Tips for Promoting Online Safety for kids in Schools.
Schools are under-way through third term in most East African countries, and soon, students will begin their end term/year national examinations. In between the opening and closing, students will be accessing the internet for educational content and revision purposes. It is therefore important to understand how schools can ensure the students online safety while online.
Access to the internet opens doors to information that our children could not otherwise access in the analogue world. The internet provides access to educational content, including study notes and curriculum content. Further, a child has access to information such as the environment, wildlife, society and more. There are also a lot of entertainment videos for the children, including cartoons. All these contents will help a child grow being aware of his or her environment and the society. However, the internet is also home to other types of content including movies and TV shows, betting and casino, music, games, adult content, and more.
In other words, whereas the internet can open a world of possibilities for our children, without proper supervision and control, it can expose the young ones to dangers. In addition to websites, social media has fast gained traction among teenagers and young adults. The social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok provides an environment where children interact with other people, not only those known to them, but also strangers.
Dangers of the internet for Children
There are a wide of range of dangers that children are likely to face online, according to a cyber security company, Kaspersky. The top online threats for children are:
1) Cyberbullying - Globally, about 11.5% of children have been bullied online. Cyberbullying is an aggressive, threatening or intimidating activity conducted via electronic communication including email, social media posts and messages, SMSs, and more. In most cases, children are reluctant to admit that they are victims of cyberbullying.
2) Online predators - Children and adults share the same online space, more so in social media and game chatrooms. Online predators are adults who use the internet to entice children for sexual exploitation or other activities, including luring them with the intent to kidnap.
3) Exposure to inappropriate content - Inappropriate content includes sexually explicit content, violent and graphic content, age-inappropriate content, and downloading of pirated materials, including music and videos.
Ways in which schools may create safe learning environments.
Beyond the responsibility of schools to create safe environments on their physical property, they also have a responsibility to create safe online-learning environments. Supervision of children while using the devices alone is not enough, Schools must recognize, prioritize, and minimize students’ potential exposure to predators, inappropriate, and—sadly—other students causing harm by implementing best practices for online safety:
- Safeguard on school-issued devices and platforms- School administration must take necessary precautions to ensure school-distributed electronic devices are not exposing children to harmful material. School to turn on parental control before giving devices to children
- Education for parents – As a school administration at the very least, be very clear with parents and guardians what platforms and websites their kids will be using, provide them their children’s passwords, and direct them to resources they can use to have age-appropriate conversations with their kids at home about body safety, harms of adult content and digital citizenship among others.
- Teacher training- We’ve been hearing of teachers using social media platforms to engage students, when those platforms are known to be pedophile hunting grounds and rampant with child sex abuse material. As school administration ensure Teachers and educators are clear about protocols and procedures when a student is exposed to or even sharing pornography while completing school assignments, on the playground, or school bus and they have the support and training necessary to deal with these potential harms. Digital Safety should be required for all school personnel—and there are many fantastic resources school administrations can use and tailor for their community.
- Youth empowerment- In our increasingly tech-reliant education system, lessons around these issues should be required, prioritized, and ongoing. At a minimum, students should be well aware of school policies and expectations around devices (school-issued and personal) and Internet usage. Sooner, not later, is when students should be taught in age-appropriate ways about body safety, recognizing predatory behavior (in person and online), understanding the harms of pornography, and what to do if they’re exposed to it, being clear on the socio-emotional risks of “sexting”: sending sexually explicit photos of themselves, as well as the potential consequences-including criminal liability - of taking and/or sharing sexually explicit material or using it to bully, shame, or threaten someone (i.e. “revenge porn”), and most importantly what to do if they feel uncomfortable or threatened.