The pandemic has had a huge impact on the way learning methodologies have been disrupted. Where earlier, children were dissuaded by parents from spending time online, where a mobile phone if brought to school would be confiscated, now it is a necessity for a child to successfully partake online classes arranged by their respective schools. The quantum of time spent by children on digital devices has seen an exponential increase, and we are looking at a continuing surge even if schools reopen and children do go back to their classrooms. As per this news report by The Economic Times there has been a 100% increase in the screen time for children due to the Covid-19 pandemic, hence it is also important for us to monitor cyber safety rules for our children.
Digital is a new way of life and devices with good wifi connectivity the magic wand for a seamless entry to that life.
While the world is at its creative best in creating & adopting disruptive technologies, it is also the time to be wary of this new way of life, of the impacts of increased screen time & of the adverse effects of cyber activities. The flip side to technology assisting us as we got locked down in our homes is the increase in cyber crimes. According to the United Nations there has been a 350% increase in cyber crime due to the use of digital platforms by all & sundry during the pandemic making cyber safety rules all the more important for children.
While adults are exposed to increased digitization of work due to the #Stayhome #Staysafe policy, there’s an urgency to be specifically protective about children who are now attending classes online via different platforms. Be it WhatsApp, Google classroom, Google meet, Microsoft teams, Zoom, Zoho , etc..the platforms are multiple and so are the vulnerabilities.
October was the month of Cyber Safety Awareness, and so the Child for Child team decided to reach out to schools and conduct sessions for children who while staying in the safety environs of their homes where increasingly being exposed to a vast unexplored digital world with its own foibles. And, before we see children going down the path of uncensored screen views we started conducting sessions with schools on Cyber Safety Awareness with the help of senior management from Smile Foundation, and also by tying up with Nex Schools from Pune & Banjara Academy from Bangalore.
The aim of these sessions have primarily been to show the bigger picture of internet where over 50% of the world’s population is online and hence the danger to a child sitting at home is from a substantial number of unknown & unscrupulous strangers. They are apprised about the damage done by cyber criminals and the different types of online crimes like phishing, virus attack, malicious software, fake information and harassment.
It is imperative that parents and guardians are always monitoring the online activities that their wards are participating in and to install strong anti-virus software and passwords. They need to protect their children and not always worry about violating their privacy. Since children are now online for at least 5 hours daily, they are taught about self-protection. It was found during these sessions that most of the children were heavily into video games. According to one of the researches there is an all time hike in online gaming and, chances are that this could be a permanent phenomena as children are increasingly getting addicted. There is a spike partly because there has been an increase in investment on Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, Gaming Apps, Gaming arcades by parents. Our job & responsibility towards students is to alert them and make them knowledgeable about the precautions they need to take, about the type & amount of personal information to share while downloading apps, about reaming alert while chatting with virtual fellow gamers, as also while watching videos to up their gaming skills.
And last but not the least, children are also made aware about types and fallouts of cyber bullying – another phenomena that has seen an unfortunate drastic increase. Students are told to be careful of unsolicited advances made towards them digitally, of online harassments, of different threats like dissing, trolling, outing, excluding, etc.. Researches have suggested, that while schoolwork has moved home so has the bullying and there has been a 70% increase in cyber bullying due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Our mission remains to continue to work with children even as schools go online. So long as we contribute to the wellbeing of children especially during these unfortunate times of a surging pandemic, we believe that when make children more and more aware about cyber world and the safety issues, we will see more Smile Cyber Champions emerging.
We would like to thank all our school partners, principals, teachers and parents who have supported us in this mission of generating cyber safety awareness amongst students. We are also ensuring that every child receives a Certificate of Participation as a Smile Cyber Champion, whatever part of the country they are from. While we have reached out to over 400 children across schools pan India, in the past few sessions, we aim to reach out to many many more in the weeks ahead.