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The function of schools in advocating for online safety among children.

In this digital era where the internet is filled with endless possibilities and opportunities for children and youngsters, there are new challenges exposing our children and putting their safety and well-being at great risk. The matter of worries is that parents and educators who are directly associated with children and considered decision makers for their children, are not well aware of these risks, hence not adopting related preventive measures, which have put millions of children in danger.

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In Pakistan, there are 0.3 million schools. Most of the schools, especially Government schools are already facing challenges in imparting quality education and are not well equipped in imparting digital literacy program; hence, students studying in government schools are potentially more exposed to online dangers, even more than physical dangers, due to not having proper digital literacy programs. Schools, where students typically spend a significant portion of their time, can play a pivotal role in fostering a safer online environment for children. By implementing the following additional measures, they can empower students to navigate the digital world with confidence and awareness:

Inclusion of digital literacy in curriculum

Schools, besides concentrating on subjective knowledge, skills, and attitudes also need to include comprehensive digital literacy curriculum covering age-appropriate guidelines for students on topics such as types of online risks, tips for responsible online behavior, ethics of using digital space, knowledge about local laws to avoid legal consequences, content reporting mechanisms w.r.t removal of unlawful content and initiating legal action is essential to be made part of online safety curriculum.

Defining guidelines for using IT/computer Labs

Almost every school has connected its computer lab to the internet, and students also access the internet via their cell phones. It is imperative to set clear guidelines and rules for use of internet at school’s lab as well as us of mobile internet within in school boundaries. This would help developing good online habits that demonstrate good ethical behavior/attitude among students and avoiding indulging students into cybercrime like bullying and harassing other students, accessing inappropriate/unlawful content, posting/forwarding fake/disinformation without verification and unethical communication.

Regular Interaction with parents and caregivers

Schools can play a pivotal role in sensitizing parents and caregivers about prevailing online hazards by communicating them about their child’s abnormal attitude/online behaviors like declining in class performance, lack of interest in studies and other physical activities, loneliness, showing aggression in attitude etc.

Schools can also play a significant role in improving parents’ digital literacy and online safety skills by offering online safety material, organizing seminars, workshops, and informational sessions for parents’/caregivers’ guidance. Facilitating open communication and bridging the gap between students and parents which is crucial in preventing children from connecting with online groomers/predators.

Using technical measures for filtering and monitoring online activities

There are many technical tools/solutions which provide a layer of protection against online risks by filtering unlawful content and are considered an essential component for promoting online safe environment.  Schools should utilize technical tools equipped with essential features such as blocking unwanted websites, limiting screen time, and sharing students’ browsing history with parents. This not only ensures the safety of students during school hours but also assists in identifying those who may be engaging in risky online behavior.

Promoting Critical Thinking among Students

Online critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze, evaluate, and interpret information obtained from digital sources and taking decisions in a thoughtful and discerning manner necessary to navigate the complexities of the online world safely and responsibly. Since each online user is prone to online threats, schools can create a foundation of critical thinking among students toward expected online risks by teaching the importance of verifying information and questioning the authenticity of online sources, don’t blindly trusting over stingers portraying them their well-wishers. This empowers students to make right decisions at right time so as to avoid falling victim to online predators/groomers, scams and misinformation.

Counseling Students in case of abnormal behavior/attitudeTop of Form

Usually, child who is victim of online danger may demonstrate significant change in his behavior, mood, physical well-being, academic performance, lack of interest in physical games, avoiding friends etc. In such situation child needs timely and proper counselling so as to bring him back to a normal life and avoid taking sever step leading to committing suicide. In cases where students exhibit abnormal behavior or attitude, schools should communicate with parents and arrange proper counseling for the victimized child. This support helps the child cope with the emotional impact, take appropriate actions, return to normalcy, and prevent drastic measures such as contemplating suicide.

Developing digital literacy content for students

The digital landscape is continuously evolving hence schools must keep themselves updated with the latest online risks & technologies to mitigate these risks. PTA realizing the importance in matter has taken all necessary measures to enhance awareness, particularly among children, parents, and caregivers. In pursuit of this goal, the PTA signed MoUs with UNICEF Pakistan and TikTok last year, focusing on collaborative efforts in child online protection. Under this partnership, the PTA has recently released online safety guidelines for students and parents, which are readily accessible for download on the PTA website. Furthermore, PTA acknowledges online safety as a global issue and believes that collaboration between countries can effectively address this concern. To this end, numerous collaborations with international partners are in progress. Once finalized, these partnerships will facilitate reaching out to a maximum number of students and their parents, helping to mitigate online risks.

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