Tuesday 18 June 2019

Students to get classes in tackling cyberbullying

We must protect our children from online risks
We must protect our children from online risks
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

A CONFIDENTIAL report is to recommend to the Cabinet that anti-cyberbullying lessons are introduced as a "core element" in primary and secondary school curriculums.

Teachers need to be brought up to speed with internet trends and more money is needed for tech-shy parents, the report, seen by the Irish Independent, says.

The addition of classes relating specifically to online abuse would be a new departure for schools but comes after an EU study identified Irish children as being among the most likely in Europe to experience some form of cyberbullying.

The 'Report Of The Internet Content Governance Advisory Group' sets out a wide range of measures that the Government should implement to make the internet safer for children.

It says that further criminal sanctions for online bullying "are not appropriate as a means of tackling a complex social problem" and that "criminalising cyberbullying for minors is not the way to proceed".

Instead, it says that awareness programmes and enhanc-ed digital literacy are a preferr- ed method of tackling the problem in the immediate future.

Communication Minister Pat Rabbitte commissioned the document which is expected to be circulated to the Cabinet in the near future.

Speaking about the report recently at an industry gathering, Mr Rabbitte said that it was "a fast-moving area and politicians have to react from time to time".

"It is a very significant report on accessing the internet and parental controls. I intend to bring it to Cabinet in the coming weeks."

The incorporation of cyberbullying awareness into the school curricula would be led by the Department of Education in conjunction with the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, according to the proposals.

More money to teach tech-shy parents on how to deal with cyberbullying would also be part of the plan with the National Parents Council earmarked for additional funding.

The report focused on cyberbullying and online harassment through email, social media, online comment sections and "hurtful" sharing of images. It also looked at how to prevent children from being exposed to inappropriate adult content on everyday internet devices.

Recent industry figures show that 40pc of children aged nine to 16 in Ireland own a smartphone, with 35pc using it daily to go online. Earlier this year, a major EU survey found that one in five Irish children have been exposed to harmful online content, including hate speech, pro-anorexia material, self-harm, drug taking or suicide.

In Britain, most home broadband packages now require subscribers to choose whether or not to activate a parental filter. The move has led to calls from some parents' groups for similar action in Ireland. However, the initiative has not been replicated in other EU countries.

The report urges the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to be given new oversight duties to protect children from age-inappropriate content in catchup TV services and other online video and TV programmes.

The proposals also focus on childrens' internet access outside the home. Public WiFi areas, they say, should display whether a parental filter is in use or not so that children and parents can decide whether to use it.

Meanwhile, publicly-funded offices tackling the issue could be in line for a boost, with the report proposing a beefed up Internet Safety Advisory Committee to be run by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and more money for the Safer Internet Ireland project.

Conversely, the report recommends that the current Office for Internet Safety should be retooled to deal solely with illegal online content, such as child abuse material. This office should also oversee mobile operators' existing voluntary blocking of illegal online content, according to the report.

The Law Reform Commission is currently considering additional proposals for dealing with cyberbullying offences.

Irish Independent

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