As dependence on e-learning grew this year amid the pandemic, so did the threat of cyberbullying and sexting children. Reuters
As dependence on e-learning grew this year amid the pandemic, so did the threat of cyberbullying and sexting children. Reuters

Rising concerns about safety of kids online as dependence on e-learning grows

By Amber Court Time of article published Oct 25, 2020

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Cape Town - As dependence on e-learning grew this year amid the pandemic, so did the threat of cyberbullying and sexting children.

The new normal of e-learning made its impact across South Africa which had pupils spending even more time online.

Google learned that cyber ills such as cyberbullying and sexting were a present danger in children’s lives and can have real-life implications with some youngsters resorting to self-harm.

Recently, a school in Joburg had the unfortunate incident of a 17-year-old pupil being a victim of child sexual abuse material.

A video was taken of the individual in a very compromising position and published on social media platforms, said director of government affairs and public policy at Google Sub-Saharan Africa, Charles Murito.

An Online Safety Curriculum Guideline is being implemented in schools across the Western Cape with the collaboration of Google and the Western Cape Education Department.

The curriculum was integrated into the life orientation subject and was piloted last year. The full roll-out was scheduled for this year in Grades 8-12, but was interrupted due to Covid-19.

A virtual launch was held earlier this week to discuss the guided curriculum with regards to learner safety being taught in schools, expected to reach 350 000 students annually.

Murito said that children were spending more time on the internet, yet online presence in any context poses threats to their safety.

“That’s why initiatives such as this curriculum are more important today than ever before,” he explained.

A parent-teacher survey done by Google showed the concerns with online safety in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria last year.

“It was discovered that the top online safety concerns for parents and teachers were privacy and security, scams, sharing of personal information and exposure to age-inappropriate content,” added Murito.

Referring to the Joburg incident, he said that the pupil was in a compromising position and the video was published on social media platforms.

“The parents and the school lacked resources to adequately remedy the situation and help the learner,” he said.

He then added that this was why organisations and various parties are investing in educational resources, like the Online Safety Curriculum Guideline.

The Western Cape Education Department’s senior curriculum planner for life skills, Ismail Teladia, said: “We were concerned about what was happening online in the education space. Parents will speak to their children about stranger danger, so we bring that into the virtual classroom and we say be careful about what you post online.”

Film and Publication Board (FPB) chief executive producer, Abongile Mashele, said the protection of children in the media space has been their preoccupation for over 20 years.

The board ensures that there is efficient and effective consumer protection through regulation of films, games and certain publications.

“The growth of the online sector is that we need to look at online protection but also children as producers of content in the online space. This is

the way we can protect children in the online space,” said Mashele.

In schools, the FPB receive a lot of reports on user-generated child pornography created by children themselves.

“As useful as we think it is to post it on social media just to bring attention to the matter we are creating more damage. Especially to the child reflected on that video. Schools can report it to and request it be taken down,” she said.

Life orientation teacher at Norman Henshilwood High School Tracey Hopton explained that as a teacher, it was time to look at how they holistically develop pupils. “It would be incorrect of us to ignore

the digital space. This gives us Google’s support and the ability to talk about things not discussed at home with regards to technology,” said Hopton.

She said that the curriculum gives teachers the support to encourage learners to feel safe in the digital space.

Western Cape Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said that many parents were concerned about the safety of their children in the online space.

“They are at risk from predators, bullying and fraud. The decision to bring in this curriculum was the right one,” said Schäfer.

She added that children need to stay safe in the digital world and that the curriculum comes at an important time.

“We continue to see cyberbullying among learners and teachers. During the pandemic we have seen an increase in cybercrime across the world.”

Kerry Mauchline, spokesperson to Schäfer, added that the WCED’s ePortal had shown a marked increase in usage since the lockdown began.

“The number of resources on the site has gone from 14500 when lockdown began, to over 26000 in September, of which 20 100 are free to use,” said Mauchline.

The number of unique visitors to the site increased since the lockdown began, from just under 250 000 to 314000 last month.

Sunday Independent

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