Invest in Cybersafety for Students

28 Nov
As an increasing number of children access the Internet, schools and parents alike must invest in cyber-safety training for students

In the land fuelled by the informational technology boom, India seems to be bringing up a generation of digital immigrants in its schools. The rich, of course, have access to computers and the gifts that good internet access brings. Those who cannot afford to have computers at home continue to be educated as previous generations were — with limited (if valuable, in other ways) access to information. Most schools, and even colleges that do have computers and Internet access ensure that these are separate from everyday learning, which continues in the old ways. Computers are restricted to computer laboratories — even the nomenclature reminiscent of experiments that have not quite come to life. And thus, schools falter in preparing their students for life.

At home, many of these students access the Internet with little or no guidance. They find their own way through the maze and there is little to protect them. With parents who grew up in an age when the personal computer was still being created, this is the first generation of cyber-travellers. But the lands they travel are inhabited by all sorts. The Internet is a vast and dangerous place, as much as it is a source of learning, networks and quick information. And children, even if they are adept in the technology, need to be guided to remain safe.

Cyber-safety is not part of the curriculum yet, though the Central Board of Secondary Education plans to include it. If news reports are to be believed, it is being helped by a Bangalore schoolboy who has developed a curriculum that is currently being tested. While this is an opportunity to praise the student and the good work that is being done, it is surprising that this had not been thought through as a regular part of imparting ‘computer science’ education.

Children, barely in their teens, are online now, while iPads are in the hands of infants. State Governments have started issuing free laptops to students, again, without training. Given the rapid rise of smart phone usage in India, connectivity now moves beyond conventional computers and laptops to hand-held devices. Each time a child borrows a smartphone to access the wider world, he sets his own norms and limits — and this needs focussed discussion. The number of students online may be small now, but if the promises of rural broadband connectivity are met, then it will balloon dramatically.

Students often use Internet connectivity to conduct their transactions and share learning. They have accounts on Facebook (sometimes for sharing homework), browse the net researching for their projects and have independent email accounts. McAfee, a provider of Internet safety products, has just released a survey of ‘tween’ Internet behaviour. Coursera, a large provider of Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs, reported that outside of the US, India has the largest student base for these high-quality, zero-fee courses. Online education, including mobile, is a large industry for the K-12(school) segment.

Our students are not only going online to study. They socialise there too. India is reportedly the largest consumer of pornography online (albeit in the 35-49 year age group). Given this data, and that most computers are shared in homes, access to age-inappropriate material is a high risk. Other risks include identity theft, which could even lead to financial loss; online friendships with unsavoury unknowns, again leading to inappropriate exchanges or even cyber bullying by those one knows well at school or at home.

There is much to be gained by traversing the Internet, and our students must be shown how to do it safely. Our schools deal with this by shutting off access to the Internet or policing it stringently. While parental and school controls are a part of the tool-set, this is not the right way to teach our children to deal with the risks. A real life analogy is teaching a child to cross the road — if they are never let on to the road, they will not be able to navigate the roads independently.

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Navigate the world and the web safely

Thursday, 28 November 2013 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Link: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/navigate-the-world-and-the-web-safely.html

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