The increased threat to children’s safety posed by the proliferation of online learning is real; prompting UNICEF and supporting partners to distribute, on 15 May 2020, a comprehensive technical note on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and its implications for protecting children online. It sets out how to mitigate risks and promote positive online experiences.
“Essentially, the value of this technical note is that it reminds us – as governments, private companies, schools, teachers, parents and caregivers – that our role to protect children is fundamental and has not changed, even though this COVID-19 threatened world we live in has changed rapidly,” says Chanel Worsteling, AISA’s Child Protection and Wellbeing Program Manager.
COVID-19 has heightened the degree of stress we’re all facing. UNICEF’s note points out that communication and collaboration between the various partners is critical. “As educators, we must be vigilant and mindful, always looking out for indications where children might need protection or guidance,” says Chanel. “Reasons are many and varied; online sexual predators, cyberbullies, online risk-taking behaviour, inappropriate content – the list goes on.”
There are many ways of reporting a child protection concern, and these still apply during this time of fluid, dynamic and different online learning. Most countries have a child helpline and global hotlines exist to protect children from online abuse (see https://bit.ly/3fUnTVI). Schools will also have a mechanism to support any child at risk of harm, as outlined in each schools child protection policy that is still relevant even though schools are operating virtually.
“Hopefully all schools are educating parents or caregivers on how to support and keep their children safe online; plus what signs to look out for that might indicate that a child is having problems,” says Chanel.
The UNICEF guidance note emphasises that children must be actively encouraged to use their voices. Children must know that whatever the issue, they can come to teachers/parents/caregivers and voice what’s on their minds. They must be aware of the fact that kind and supported interactions are expected, and that cruel, racist or inappropriate contact is never okay.
In this new, online-dominated learning environment, schools are expected to educate both students and parents on rules of online engagement that reflect the new realities.
Chanel says a recent campaign by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that teaches young children about online safety, perfectly captures the key messages we want to give children.
To read the full UNICEF technical note, please go to https://uni.cf/2WAoWme