Today’s report from the Lords Communications Committee on children and internet safety has been greeted with approval and scorn in equal measure with some commentators even suggesting that children should be teaching the Lords or their own parents how to use the internet.
These naysayers – many of whom post anonymously on news websites – have been critical of this House of Lords report, which claims that learning to survive in a world dominated by the internet should be as important for children as reading and writing, and that lessons about online responsibilities, risks and acceptable behaviour should be mandatory in all UK schools.
I have some sympathy with the report critics and I feel it is rather stating the obvious as most schools – and parents –will have been battling this issue for a long time already.
The Lords report builds on findings by the Children's Commissioner for England in January that revealed that although the internet is not designed for children, they are the most prolific users by age group.
As a parent of secondary and primary school pupils, this is an issue that has reared its ugly head on a few occasions and will continue to do so as the internet evolves. The filters and the rules are in place at home, while at the schools my children attend, personal mobile devices are not permitted to be used on site and filtering is in place for school-owned devices.
But I am not naive enough to believe that children, even mine, cannot find loopholes. A good dose of 4G on the way home from school or a router without any filters in a friend’s house can open the door to whole host of unsuitable material. As a PR consultant, I think I am pretty internet savvy, but I reckon my 13-year-old is equally capable, if not better, at using it than me.
One of our latest blogs by a 20-year-old colleague reminded me that young people would not recognise a world without the internet, so they are inevitably going to be more confident and comfortable using it...probably much more so than the adult population.
The Lords are calling for digital literacy to form the core of a new curriculum for personal social health and economic education (PSHE) to warn them about online pornography, internet grooming, sexting, fake news and covert online advertising online, but I fear it would be better served as a mandatory class for all adults.
As far as my children are concerned, they are already receiving this form of education in PSHE lessons and they would be the very embodiment of an eye-rolling emoji if I began to talk to them about it. Same too for schools, who have already invested in web and content filtering tools to ensure they have visibility of any personal mobile devices being used on their networks and have the ability to block access to any inappropriate material.
But there will be children whose parents are not as internet aware or concerned about their child’s welfare, so that’s where joined up action from all stakeholders will be crucial. For schools, especially, they will need to adhere to best practice guidance to try to keep their children safe by using the technology available to them while giving valuable advice that may be lacking at home.
So while I can understand the critics’ standpoint, there really is no harm in this subject being brought into the spotlight again...to remind parents and carers’ of their responsibilities if nothing else.
Meanwhile if your school needs advice on web and content filtering, offline device monitoring or network management, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will put you in touch with one of our education experts.