There is no escaping the digital world in 2018. Even for young children, educational apps are replacing learning books, homework assignments now require a unique log-in and hanging out on the weekend can be done from home via Skype.
And because there’s no end to the wealth of information available to those scouring the web, it also means school children will have unfettered access to graphic and disturbing content.
Aware that this freedom comes with major risks, the Indian government wants schools to educate children on the dangers of the Internet and how to stay safe online.
We can’t lock children out of the #digital world because of the dangers. Just as we help children understand the #risks in the physical world, we need to #guide & navigate them through the digital one: @DrYasminAHaque, UNICEF rep in India#GrowingUpOnline #StaySafeOnline pic.twitter.com/Gv1Ou2tfxy
— UNICEF India (@UNICEFIndia) December 11, 2017
“There are various kinds of issues children may face, from sexual abuse and addiction to being exposed to inappropriate/upsetting content, cyberbullying, financial fraud, identity theft and blackmail,” Siddharth Pillai, co-director of Aarambh, India’s first online resource portal on child sexual abuse and exploitation, told The Financial Express.
The country’s women and child development, and human resource development ministries are meeting today to discuss how local schools should move forward in Internet education, reported The Hindustan Times.
India’s Unicef representative Yasmin Ali Haque told The Financial Express: “While we need to embrace technology, which cuts across the global divide, we also need to acknowledge that there are risks. We need to have stricter guidelines and policies in place to ensure children’s safety.”
Computer Science is already a mandatory subject in Indian schools, so the meeting will discuss whether it will be beneficial to include “information about cyber laws, internet ethics, cybersecurity measures, what all to avoid online and why as well as psychosocial impact of Internet addiction” in the course, according to an agenda accessed by The Hindustan Times.
A similar Unicef campaign was launched in India in 2016, called “#staysafeonline”. The campaign reportedly encouraged young Internet users to be there for a friend in need, treat others with respect, and advise others to be real friends.
— Kent Page (@KentPage) February 10, 2017
Already, 81 percent of eight to 16-year-olds in India are active on social media, and a startling 53 percent have been victim to some form of cyberbullying.
There are also fears surrounding the psychological impact that may be caused by the Internet and gaming addiction. Although social media and online gaming are intended to improve connectivity among friends, experts have found that they often also evoke feelings of social isolation, depression and even suicide.
However, by teaching children the risks and opportunities of online activities, India hopes the Internet can remain a positive tool for educational growth.