By Mark Orchison. Introduction and editing by Kate Taverner
On #SaferInternetDay (11 February) we join thousands of you in promoting the safe and responsible use of technology for young people. Where do you start when tackling such a broad and complex topic in an international school context?
We called on our colleagues at Childnet International and 9ine Consultancy for information, guidance and resources that will open our eyes to the realities we face and help us take steps to overcome issues across the international school community.
"The internet is primarily a place of positivity for young people. Whether being inspired to be the next campaigner, supporter or friend—it's a place for them to find their voice, explore their identities, and support each other," says Will Gardner OBE, Director of the UK Safer Internet Centre.
“We must help young people on this journey by acknowledging the pressures, challenges and limits the internet also brings. We can do this by listening to them and starting conversations about our online lives. We know talking works; as a result of Safer Internet Day last year, 78% of young people felt more confident about what to do if they were worried about something online.
“It is so important for all of us—adults, businesses, and government—to support young people.”
Setting the scene: some of the challenges
Schools, students and educators use multiple devices and apps at home and in school
“We check our devices on average every 12 minutes that we are awake! Youth (ages 15–24) is the most connected age group. Worldwide, 71% are online compared to 48% of the total population. Persuasive design features draw on psychological and social theories to influence human behaviour,” said Kate Edwards from Childnet International at our CIS Student Well-being Workshop in November 2019.
Hot off the press! Read the latest research from The UK Safer Internet Centre, released today, Free To Be Me—Piecing together identity online. Based on UK data, it found that being online us both liberating and limiting for children:
- Young people’s online experiences are an essential part of who they are offline, with 38% saying it’s easier to be themselves online than offline
- The internet is creating an informed and inspired generation that is taking action
- But some feel pressure to shape their online identity for others—62% are careful about what they share because they’ve seen people be mean
- Certain groups are being targeted with identity-based hate
Encourage your students to do the Safer Internet Day Quiz!
A fun way for young people aged 7-13 to test their knowledge of online identity.
Within a child safeguarding context, a school, by the very virtue of using technology in class can unknowingly be placing a child at harm
Technology companies, including some in EdTech, are able to influence individuals in order to sell more goods. To really do this well, they need to understand their audience and use algorithms for maximum impact—in social media, social gaming and apps. Algorithms are embedded in internet browsers and in the key features of our mobile devices such as cameras, notes and messages. Some app firms, including browser-based apps, share data on use and users with each other. Some, including EdTech, make revenue from this activity.
The International Taskforce on Child Protection emphasised these dangers at their December meeting, highlighting a New York Times investigative report illustrating the extent of this activity. “Criminals are making virtual connections with children through gaming and social media platforms. One popular site warns visitors, 'Please be careful.'"
Image source: New York Times article by Nellie Bowles and Michael H. Keller. Image also included in the December meeting of the International Taskforce on Child Protection illustrating virtual messages and connections with young people online.
The profiling of students begins when an account is first created for them. Software will collect personal information related to the user based on username, location (IP address) and device. An app—on a device owned by the student or provided by the school to the student—may also gain access to other apps on the device, or account information of the student on the device. Even if anonymous usernames have been used by the school to protect the identity of the student, the very nature of personal information available gives the owner of the software a good insight into the demographics and possible identity of the student user. The student may download the app onto another device, or another computer; perhaps a device that is a personal one at home. If logging on through a browser, cookies may be applied to the device, tracking the other websites and web searches of the user, and building up a more in-depth picture of the individual. The app may harvest information from other apps on the device, such as social media, to collect even more information and gain access to photos and metadata in photos, such as location.
Consequently, schools can be inadvertently processing personal data that could lead to a negative impact on the well-being of children.
Importantly, many privacy laws, including the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which applies throughout the EU, require schools to evidence their assessment of how personal data is collected, who it is shared with, and the risks that sharing will impose on the welfare of children.
Solutions? Consider these shorter- and longer-term suggestions
Help students understand their actions with this wealth of Childnet resources
Childnet International is a charity set up to empower children, families and schools in the digital age. Childnet is a partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre, the organization which coordinate Safer Internet Day in the UK. Its vision is to make the internet a great and safe place for children. Safer Internet Day offers the opportunity to highlight positive uses of technology and to explore the role we all play in helping to create a better and safer online community.
They have designed a range of free resources to help schools to educate their students. Visit www.saferinternetday.org.uk to find Education Packs, Safer Internet Day films, quiz, top tips and more. As they say “Together, we can make the internet a better place. #SaferInternetDay.”
How schools can embrace technology to aid early intervention and protect children
Despite some of the alarming things we’ve learned above, we still realise that technology can also aid school leaders in protecting their students.
By proactively using the data generated from IT systems, schools can protect and reduce the risk of harm to students and the school community.
Following the principles of those used by big tech, schools can profile and analyse online user behaviour and interactions with the purpose of supporting the identification of harm or potential harm. This type of monitoring can generate extremely useful insights and alerts that aid early intervention in the areas of self-harm, suicide, inappropriate relationships, grooming, bullying, and many more.
Before putting in place a monitoring strategy, school leaders and school boards must carefully consider the law in their country, which may set parameters on the extent of monitoring that schools are able to carry out. Deciding in advance what the purpose of collecting the data is, how the data will be reviewed and used to spot trends and protect children, and how it will be kept confidential to only those trained staff who need to see it, are all key considerations. Questions surrounding the cost and implications of using this data to aid early interventions are also important to consider at the outset.
Use this self-assessment tool and a checklist of actions
9ine has developed a data protection self-assessment toolkit that is only available to CIS Accredited Schools and is accessible here. This toolkit includes a checklist of actions that can be taken to include monitoring of IT systems to support child protection. Schools that complete the toolkit will also have the opportunity to review their practice with 9ine in the areas of data protection, cybersecurity and internet filtering and monitoring.
Read and share advice for parents (and schools) in this New York Times article
The New York Times asked two experts about how families could best navigate gaming and other online activity that can expose children to sexual predators. “Sexual predators have found an easy access point into the lives of young people: They are meeting them online through multiplayer video games and chat apps, making virtual connections right in their victims’ homes.” Read their recommendations for parents and add these to your lesson plans on digital safety.
Image: Survey of 716 international educators conducted by the International Taskforce on Child Protection
It’s a lot to take in, but we only have to scan some of the information above and also in this post about student mental health to see the many aspects of modern life that effect the well-being of young people, technology being only one. Let’s use days like #SaferInternetDay to help them navigate the complexities of their young lives and stay as mentally healthy and physically safe as we can.