COVID crisis highlights need for greater focus on student online safety

Practically overnight, the pandemic forced our school communities to transition to new modes of teaching and learning. With remote instruction now firmly established as part of the new normal, student cyber safety has emerged as an urgent priority for school leaders.

By the end of March 2020, COVID-led school closures had impacted 1.5 billion students across 165 countries. Australia & New Zealand were both included in that number and no state, territory or province was immune. In Victoria, where lockdowns were protracted, only 3 percent of children were physically attending school by early May. 

Related Blog: A deep-dive into remote learning and how it can improve education

The challenges have been unprecedented for all stakeholders - from school leaders to teaching staff, students and parents. 

In addition to grappling with logistical and pedagogical obstacles, school leaders have needed to confront the stark reality of surging online risk for digital learners. 

With the acceleration of device use and online learning across all school sectors in recent years, issues around digital health and wellbeing were a growing concern for schools in the pre-pandemic era. 

But with the abrupt shift to remote learning - and students spending more and more time online, accessing an ever-expanding range of digital tools - those concerns have intensified sharply. And with good reason.

More time online means more potential for risk exposure

The latest research from Australia’s eSafety Commissioner shows that nearly half of students aged 12 to 17 have experienced cyberbullying and/or social exclusion, been contacted by a stranger, or received pornographic or violent images. 

The potential online risks for primary school students are if anything even greater, say experts. At the same time, studies show that the majority of Australian parents lack confidence to deal with the issue. 

When students access the internet on a school network, enterprise firewalls mostly block inappropriate sites and help to manage distractions. But what happens when personal or school-issued devices are used at home for remote learning? For the vast majority, no such protection exists. 

Related Blog: Dealing with bad digital behaviours post lockdown

That makes students vulnerable to a host of issues, from online predators to cyberbullying to compulsive gaming. Yet the school’s duty of care remains.

Principle 8 of The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations makes clear that, “Risks associated with [technological] platforms [be] minimised through all necessary means, including: education of children and young people, parents, staff and volunteers about expectations of online behaviour; the application of safety filters; and communication protocols." 

Student digital health & wellbeing requires a comprehensive approach

Clearly, then, protecting students’ digital health and wellbeing means more than simply blocking problematic content. Rather, the challenge for school leaders is to forge a holistic approach that involves and empowers the entire school community, and that protects students wherever they learn: in the classroom or at home.

What would a holistic solution look like? In essence, it would integrate smart, sophisticated safety tools with appropriate pastoral care support, plus education about digital trends, risks and benefits. (Recent research shows 95% of parents want more information about online safety.)

Related On-Demand Webinar: How Linewize Can Support Student Digital Wellbeing 

With the prospect of online learning for the foreseeable future, Linewize’s unique solution provides schools with peace of mind that students will always be safe and focussed on learning during school time - regardless of where they are located.

Linewize can provide your school with tools to:

  • Enforce acceptable use policies while students study from home (duty-of-care)
  • Monitor and control internet access in virtual classrooms
  • Empower parents & families to be active participants in their children’s digital development 

When it comes to online safety, leadership needs to come from the top - and that means school leaders taking the lead to start the conversation.

Speak with our education experts about cyber safety at your school - Book a Consultation


Topics: remote learning, online safety, digital wellbeing

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