The internet is unparalleled as a tool for accessing knowledge, making its value for education quite incredible. But all parents will have seen the harrowing news stories of what can happen when children are exposed to the darker elements of life on the internet.
Unfortunately, there’s no ‘internet lite’ and no totally watertight filter that will keep children 100% safe online. So what can we do as parents and how does the move to online learning impact the role of teachers in safeguarding our children’s use of the internet?
First of all, just as with any aspect of parenting, educating our children to make good choices of their own will be key. It is impossible for any school, or any parent to monitor every interaction your child will have on the internet. Equipping them with the knowledge to spot inappropriate content and giving them pathways to raising the alarm should they encounter such things is vital. Simply put; to keep our children safe we need to prepare them to recognise and respond to risk – just as you would if they were learning to cross the road!
We advise that you make your children feel comfortable with raising their exposure to inappropriate content with you. They should not feel they should have to hide anything at all. Create a culture in the home where internet activity is discussed and concerns openly shared. In doing so you create the first element of online safety for your child – an adult with whom they can discuss their fears and problems.
Schools are aware that sending their students ‘out’ onto the internet presents a number of risks. Niall Statham, a teacher at Hartland International School was keen to share his school’s approach. As he pointed out, the work the school have previously done with their students will be the foundation of safety while they learn at home.
“The ongoing work in our curriculum will be one of the most successful safety tools we deploy. Educating and empowering students to be responsible digital citizens is the best thing schools can do. The ability for students to spot red flags and remove themselves from potentially difficult situations is key to building their digital resilience.
There are lots of great learning resources and websites out there, but we’re proceeding with caution. As a school, it’s important to be more critical than ever about the places we send our children to learn and the information we guide them towards”.
Whatever platforms our schools are using, if both teachers and students are aware of the potential pros and cons, the learning environment is already a safer one. Introducing teachers and students to new platforms now might seem exciting and innovative, but schools should proceed with care.
At Kent College Dubai, Principal Anthony Cashin has highlighted the need for parents to work in partnership with schools in order to keep children safe. Just as it would be in more normal times, the relationship and open dialogue between school and home is key to a safe learning environment. Mr Cashin had this to say:
“Parents need to ensure that the physical learning space that they create with their child also allows them to supervise their online activity. Unsupervised children may seize the opportunity to stray away from learning and follow alternative online pathways. Be vigilant!”
Mr Cashin went on to stress that all of Kent College Dubai’s usual expectations regarding behaviour remain in place, even if the students are not physically in the school.
“Of course, our normal school rules of behaviour will apply during online learning. Bullying, posting inappropriate comments/images, or doing anything that makes others feel bad/unwelcome/embarrassed will be dealt with as usual.
Teachers will report incidents to their respective Head of Year who will then notify parents accordingly. Parents and school will work together to ensure all pupils feel safe during online learning”.
In addition to apps and other online platforms, some schools will add live video lessons or discussion groups into the mix. This live interaction raises a whole host of additional questions with regard to safety.
Jeremy Williams, Head of School at Manor Hall School in Al Ain believes his team have put in place a workable, safe solution to this dilemma.
“There are different cultural norms in the MENA region in particular that need consideration. It is imperative that parents have students in school uniform, sitting at tables, when interacting live with adults/teachers. At Manor Hall, we will require a SLT member to be present for any live teacher or live video conferencing for the safeguarding protection of both staff and students.
Many parents are still working, and it is my opinion that students and staff should not be 1:1 video chatting/group chatting without a parent and member of school admin present.
VOIP is a totally new frontier for education here in the UAE, so we need to make sure the situation is organised in a way that protects both staff and students”.
Regardless of the approach your school takes when it comes to safeguarding, the team at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com would like to remind parents that it is perfectly acceptable to request to see your school’s online safeguarding policy. Should you have concerns, or feel that there is any deviation from the policy, please raise it immediately.
These are uncharted waters for us all and even in the midst of so much change and challenge, keeping our children safe must remain our top priority.