Internet safety campaigns targeted at Irish schoolchildren are to incorporate peer-to-peer and social networking elements, the National Centre for Technology in Education (NCTE) has said.
“We’re trying to develop a peer-to-peer element in the Watchyourspace.ie site where students are talking to each other and discussing things,” said Jerome Morrissey, director, NCTE. “That’s where it’s at with the slightly older teens. The best way for them to get engaged with this topic is if they write about their own experiences and share their observations.”
Morrissey said this approach reflected where internet technology is developing anyway. “Young people are writing more and are hopping ideas off each other and getting their ideas honed down, challenged and maybe adjusted. This sharing of content and honing down of views and attitudes online is fantastic. It’s the future.”
Another element in preparing students for life online is training the teachers to prepare them. From next September teachers will be able to avail of specialist tutoring about internet safety and privacy issues.
“We’ve just trained the first batch of tutors who will be training out of the 21 education centres around the country. They’ll be offering courses from September to teachers,” said Morrissey.
The idea is not to have a specialist module in schools for internet safety but to integrate awareness of technology into every facet of school life.
“Internet safety is a boring topic for kids unless its contextualisd. We integrate it with everything that happens in schools. Teachers will carry this with them as a discussion topic all the time to be taken care of during the ordinary day. That’s the only way to handle that.”
A new subject – Social, Health and Environmental Studies – that replaces Civics will also incorporate net awareness. “It’s dealing with life issues and technology will be included in this – cyberbullying and so on.
“We’re trying to sensitise young people to be careful. What you put up there is up there forever. Kids need to have a self-selecting process in place when they’re putting up stuff. We want them that in the future somebody might use what you put up there for sheer entertainment or as a way of finding out about them in an employment context. It’s a serious issue.”
Despite the worries about online privacy, internet technology should be viewed as a valuable asset, Morrissey said.
“The idea is not to scare anybody but to say technology is wonderful. The amount of writing that’s going on is fantastic. Kids are writing more in a week than we ever did with our English essays. The aim of these initiatives are to say to kids the internet is fantastic but here are a few ground rules.”
By Niall Byrne