Irish DPC pilots data privacy lessons in Irish schools

16 Oct 2018

Helen Dixon, Data Protection Commissioner for Ireland. Image: Connor McKenna

Schools in Dublin and Meath are among the first in Ireland to trial what could become a staple of Irish education in the 21st century.

The Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) is piloting data privacy education modules in Irish classrooms ahead of potential policy decisions in this area.

Three schools in Dublin and Meath last week began a pilot of lesson plans devised by staff from the DPC who have a background in education. It was arranged with the support of the Ombudsman for Children’s Office in Ireland.

The lesson plans are designed to engage with children in three different age groups: 9 to 10, 14 to 15, and 16 and upwards.

The move is a first and a potentially timely move for a generation that never knew what life was like before the internet, social media and smartphones.

Data privacy education needs to start somewhere

In recent weeks, made the argument that education in data privacy needs to be considered for our schools, especially in the wake of data privacy scandals, the rise of online bullying and the recent vote in the Dáil to set the digital age of consent at 16.

Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon told that the plan is to run a public consultation later this year on the merits of introducing data privacy education in schools. She explained that while the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that became law in the EU in May has principles about data protection for children, there are few specifics on how this can be done.

“And that’s what we want to engage in now. We want to run a consultation and we are going to publish a consultation document by the end of this year. We want as broad engagement as possible for parents, representatives, the education sector, voluntary bodies and all groups that engage with children. But, most importantly, we want to engage with the children on this.”

The initial pilot and feedback will inform potential creation of a national lesson plan. “We hope the curriculum would take it on,” Dixon said. “We have written to the secretary general of the Department of Education to notify him of what we are doing in this area. We have worked with the Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon’s office, which is supporting us with this pilot.”

Dixon said she is hopeful that the pilot will feed into a broader understanding of the risks for children in the online environment. “We want to see if children understand the concept of personal data; how they engage with online services, the notices they are given and what they understand the risks to be; whether they understand the rights they have and can they exercise them by themselves.

“The pilot will allow us to modify the lesson plan so that we can then propose them to all schools nationally,” Dixon said.

“Our aim is to produce guidance that will be useful to all stakeholders and be grounded in reality, and work in harmony with GDPR and under Section 32 of the new Data Protection Act 2018.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years