By Claire Stead, Online Safety Ambassador at Smoothwall
Ever heard of the app Musical.ly? Or what about ooVoo? If you haven't, don't worry - you're like millions of others around the country trying to keep up with the latest apps and gadgets available to kids. Children are online nowadays from the day they are born and as a result, they are the true digital natives of this generation. It's hard to think of a child under five who probably hasn't used the internet before, so children are now coming to school equipped with the knowledge and desire around tech that could put some of us to shame. It therefore poses a challenge - albeit a healthy one - for the less technologically advanced of us to stay ahead.
Protecting children's curiosity
It will come as no surprise that the amount of time 8-11s and 12-15s spend online has more than doubled since 2005. Similarly, a quarter of 8-11s and seven in ten 12-15s own a smartphone. These are startling figures, but are the reality of the increasingly digital world we are living in. The web is, at its heart, a forum for worldwide knowledge sharing and people of all ages benefit from it every day.
But where does the responsibility lie with regards to protecting children online? Truthfully, it lies with both parents and schools. For parents, it's vital to talk to your children about what they're doing online and remind them about the dangers of oversharing, stranger danger and privacy theft. However, schools need a different approach to protecting pupils when they're surfing the web in the classroom. Humans by their very nature are curious mammals, and children exemplify this even more. It's finding the right balance between protecting their curiosity and keeping them safe.
An added pressure on schools
It's vital, therefore, that schools have the correct monitoring and web filtering in place to safeguard children. But this monitoring doesn't just mean blocking websites and alerting police when a child searches, for example, 'self-harm'. A smart, proactive and context-aware approach is what's needed here, so staff and schools can fully assess potentially dangerous searches undertaken by schoolchildren and act appropriately.
A story surfaced recently about schools using 'snooping' software to 'spy' on pupils as they work on computers. Stories like this wildly exaggerate all the good work schools are doing to help protect children online. Monitoring in schools is controlled and positive and is not used as a spy tool, but rather as a way to protect children from any online threats and highlight any safeguarding issues. As digital becomes an increasingly prominent part of education and its curriculums, schools are under pressure to enable pupils digitally whilst also protecting them from the darker side of the web - from illegal activity to radicalisation.
Empowering our educators
Web filters alone cannot guarantee the digital safety of a child; we need to ensure that teachers, head teachers, Child Protection Officers and parents all have the knowledge and tools needed to safeguard their children in the digital world. We must let children use the internet creatively and curiously, but appreciate the need to protect them from harm just like we would in the real world. I love this quote from Arnold Edinborough: "Curiosity is the very basis of education and if you tell me that curiosity killed the cat, I say only the cat died nobly." In this vein, let's empower teachers and schools to protect children and keep them safe on the web.