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How Can Schools Ensure That Their Students Remain Safe Online?

8/02/24
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With our society’s ever-increasing connectivity and internet usage, it becomes important that we all understand the basics of internet safety. This is especially true for young people and children, who are particularly vulnerable towards negative online experiences. Accordingly, schools must consider their role in shaping the digital landscape of their students. To mark Safer Internet Day, we have written an article to help schools with this responsibility.

 

What Is Safer Internet Day?

Safer Internet Day is an annual event that raises awareness of safer internet usage, especially for children and young people.

In particular, the campaign highlights the need to:

  • be connected safely
  • reflect on how your actions online may affect others or your safety
  • protect yourself and others by getting informed on how to remain safe online.

 

Online Risks

While most schools are aware that there are risks associated with their student’s internet usage, many may not understand the full extent of these issues.

The eSafety Commissioner has released numerous statistics on the topic which reveal just how harmful the internet can be for children. This includes the discovery that almost half of young people and children aged between 8-17 have been treated in a hurtful way online, and that 62% of children have been exposed to potentially harmful online content. This data emphasises how important it is for schools to protect their students from online harm.

 

The Role of Schools in Ensuring Online Safety

Schools have a duty of care take such measures as are reasonable in all the circumstances to protect students from risks of harm that reasonably ought to be foreseen. This duty extends to keeping students safe online. Not only are schools responsible for maintaining a safe online environment in and around the school, but it is important that they teach online safety practices and habits to set students up to be independently safe.

When parents and guardians place their children into the care of a school, it becomes the school’s responsibility to uphold an acceptable level of digital safety for its students. Schools can take quite a few steps to ensure that they achieve this.

Perhaps the most important step towards ensuring the online safety of students is education and awareness. By effectively educating students about the importance and principles of being responsible digital citizens, students can take responsibility for their own online safety and are less likely to find themselves in dangerous digital situations. As such, schools should incorporate cyber safety education into the general curriculum, especially for younger children who are often the most vulnerable.

While digital safety education can greatly decrease the number of unsafe online interactions that students may experience, it does not eliminate these risks altogether. Therefore, schools should also implement safeguarding mechanisms such as internet content blockers and filters, along with tools to monitor internet usage.

Schools also need to continue to develop and maintain their online safety policies and procedures and systems to ensure that they remain effective in protecting students against emerging online threats.

Schools must also consider the online safety of their students in relation to their own peers. The cyberspace is a common avenue for bullying to occur between students, which can have a significant impact on a young person’s mental health and social wellbeing. Schools can discuss the impact of cyberbullying within the classroom and introduce the concept of a responsible digital citizen to contextualise the potential damage that can occur from this form of bullying along with methods of identifying it. They can also establish clear guidelines and boundaries on what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t, while explaining the ramifications that a student may face when engaging in this behaviour (for example, in their student code of conduct). Schools should also create easily accessible reporting pathways to ensure that students are comfortable to speak up, both for themselves and others.

Finally, schools must implement effective crisis and contingency planning in case students do find themselves in unsafe online situations. This could include offering counselling, seeking external aid, or even contacting the police depending on the severity of the situation. Following an incident, the school should also address its protection systems and determine whether changes can be made to avoid the incident occurring again in the future.

 

Collaboration with the School Community

While schools hold a significant amount of responsibility in ensuring the online safety of students, the rest of the school community must not overlook their own responsibility in the matter. Schools should therefore also encourage teachers, parents and caregivers and other members of the school community to monitor student’s internet usage, as far as possible, and establish mechanisms and practices to minimise the harmful online content and interactions that children could potentially face.

 

Success Stories

While it is easy to get wrapped up in the harmful and negative aspects of online and digital spaces, we shouldn’t discount the positive impact that carefully considered and monitored online learning can have. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, schools would not have been able to provide students with a supervised education but for video communication services along with online workbooks and notetaking management platforms. The pandemic has therefore highlighted the positive use of online learning platforms for educators, namely, how they can be used in unique situations such as for students who are unable to attend school physically.

 

Looking Ahead

Moving forward, schools will have to continue to adapt to the ever-changing digital landscape that our children and young people navigate. While unexpected risks and harmful situations may arise due to shifts in technology, schools should aim to incorporate positive education tools into students’ learning, while ensuring that harm reduction and minimisation systems are in place. There must also be a strong focus on teaching students of the online risks that they face so that they are better equipped to deal with them.

For useful resources on how your school can assess your ability to deal with online incidents and to improve your practices, visit the eSafety Commissioner’s website.

 

KM Edit
 
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About the Author

Michael Dreiling

Michael is a content and data administrator at Ideagen. He is currently studying Commerce and Design at the University of New South Wales.

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