How often do you use the internet? Pretty much every day? It’s an amazing world that serves up information on any subject, allows us to discover new interests and provides us with opportunities to connect and collaborate with others all over the world. There is also, however, a more unsavoury side that exposes us – adults and children alike – to risk, harm, exploitation and more.
As the pandemic hit and we were all required to stay at home, everyone’s worlds suddenly shifted online. And, while this was perfect for working at home and enabling us to keep in touch with friends and family, it came with significant risks for young people. In fact, UNICEF warned that children were “at increased risk of harm” during the pandemic, due to not just the huge rise in their screen time for education and socialisation but their increased exposure to online dangers, such as harmful content, being influenced by others, talking to strangers online and so on.
Protected in school
As students use technology at school, in the vast majority of cases they are protected by technologies that create a secure environment in which to learn. Having filtering and monitoring systems in place is a requirement for schools – but some may go further and also have tools to spot any trending terms that students are using, giving teachers and safeguarding staff the opportunity to address issues and provide learning opportunities as they do so.
Restricting access to everything to keep students safe isn’t the most helpful approach, as they need a controlled digital environment in which to practise their online skills; one that allows them to make mistakes in safety. Some school eSafety solutions enable parameters to be set for age-appropriate use, so each year group is protected, yet can explore and learn at the same time.
Education is key
Outside school however, this isn’t so easy. Over the last year, as students have learned online at home on personal or household devices, having the knowledge to make good decisions about how to keep themselves online has been crucial – and this is where digital citizenship skills come in.
Educating students about online safety (e.g. how to conduct themselves online, make the right decisions, know what is real or fake, how to report issues and more) is what schools do every day. This knowledge is crucial (especially in our current situation) because students need these skills – now and in the future – to take ownership of their online lives and make informed choices as they interact with others.
Repetition of key safety messages, in addition to staying abreast of online trends and the effects they can have, is central to being able to get the most out of the internet while remaining safe. With that in mind, to help teachers, we’ve created an Online Safety Guide to provide information and resources on common online risks that students can face – as well as advice for schools and parents on how to support children’s safe internet use.