At primary level the focus is educating children to keep safe online, being respectful of others online and helping teachers integrate internet safety into teaching and learning in their schools.
There are extensive training and curricular supports available, including through the Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) curriculum, to assist schools in the development of policies and practices on the safe use of the internet and to promote students’ mental, emotional, social and physical well-being.
Under the current curriculum at primary, Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) is the context in which social and emotional learning is addressed.
The SPHE curriculum, implemented from junior infants to sixth class, includes a strand unit Media Education. Through this strand, pupils will:
- become familiar with different media
- explore how prejudice and partiality can distort information
- explore some of the techniques used in the media
- examine how these techniques are used in promoting particular ideas or in selling particular products
- look at the media in a critical way by asking questions, exploring perspectives, and examining bias
- begin to investigate advertising and marketing strategies and practise using some of these approaches for themselves
- become discerning about the messages they receive from different media sources
- examine how families and relationships are portrayed in the media, how conflicts are resolved, and how intimacy and sexuality are represented
- examine the effects of advertising on various aspects of life, for example on purchasing, dietary habits, health behaviour and life-style.
Children are also given opportunities to explore the range of information available to them through information and communication technologies. They can begin to become aware of cultural bias and the dominant perspective that pervades some of these technologies. They are encouraged to make the technology work for them and to become discerning and judicious media users.
Through the Media Education strand unit, at Fifth and Sixth Class curriculum in SPHE, the child should be enabled to:
- explore and understand how information is conveyed and practise relaying messages using a variety of methods e.g. information and communication technology, letter, telephone, picture, poster, sign, film, book
- explore the role of newspapers and other forms of print media in transmitting messages, the techniques used and the types of information included e.g. identifying information that may be deliberately excluded, the role of bias
- recognise unequal treatment of sexual roles and other issues in literature, advertising, drama, magazines and other media
- identify the audiences at which different aspects of the media are aimed the approaches used, e.g. the content
- become aware of the different forms of advertising, its purpose and the messages it promotes e.g. advertising messages—slim always means healthy, beautiful people smoke and drink, certain diets are safe, beauty is physical hidden links between body-image and certain products—you will belong if you use this product what I need versus what I want
- become increasingly critical and discerning in his/her own attitude to advertising and the techniques used to promote products, life-styles and ideas techniques: e.g. beauty and glamour to promote certain products, the use of music, associating personalities with certain products, giving free gifts on purchase, the use of attractive visual images, the repetition of certain advertisements
- explore various recreation and leisure activities as an alternative to watching television
- explore and use some simple broadcasting, production and communication techniques e.g. lighting, voice-over, interview, camera work, using different kinds of music, e-mail.
Given that the SPHE curriculum dates back to 1999, schools typically supplement teaching in this area with more up-to-date materials. Webwise has put together a number of internet safety teaching resources which are available to schools for free. They can be used to help young people to learn about using new media in a safe, secure and positive way. My Department has collaborated with Webwise and other agencies to develop the following range of materials at primary and post-primary level:
- Webwise Primary Teachers’ Handbook (PDST, DES, 2011) This programme provides online resources to support teachers in addressing learners’ safe and responsible uses of the Internet. This programme compliments and extends the messages the Stay Safe programme and it is envisaged that the programme will be taught as part of the SPHE curriculum for children between the ages of 8 and 12 (i.e. 1st to 6th Class).
- My Selfie and the Wider World (Webwise, PDST, DES, 2015)his Anti-Cyber Bullying Teachers’ Handbook is an SPHE resource developed to engage 5th and 6th class primary school learners on the topic of cyber bullying.
- HTML Heroes Programme (Webwise, DES), is for primary school teachers who wish to introduce internet safety into SPHE for 3rd and 4th classes.
- Lockers (Webwise, PDST, DES, 2016,) This programme aimed at Junior Cycle learners assists schools in coping with and preventing the sharing of explicit self-generated images of minors.
- Up2Us Anti-Bullying Kit (Webwise, PDST, DES, 2014) This post-primary programme address the issue of cyber bullying.
- Be Safe Be Webwise (DES, NCTE and SPHE support service) Promotes key internet safety skills among Junior Cycle post-primary learners. The resource complements the mandatory SPHE curriculum.
- ThinkB4UClick supports teachers to help junior cycle learners to explore: online privacy, online rights and responsibilities, how to assert their online rights and how to respect the rights of their peers in a technologically advanced global environment.
The PDST Technology in Education website (www.pdsttechnologyineducation.ie) offers the following information and advice in relation to internet safety:
The Internet and digital media can help our pupils learn, create and communicate in ways that we would never have imagined in our youth. The online world is very much part of their lives, they are “growing up digital” with technology embedded in every aspect of their lives.
Schools have a duty of care to their pupils, and this includes helping children and young people to use new digital technologies safely and responsibly, wherever and whenever they go online.
Digital literacy skills are key life skills for children and young people today. They need to be media savvy and know how to effectively search for and evaluate online content; know how to protect personal information and reputation; know to respect copyright and intellectual property and know where to get help if problems arise. Schools are well placed to help children and young people to develop these skills, and should look for opportunities across the curriculum to reinforce online safety messages.
The school can:
- Implement and update an Internet Safety Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). The school’s AUP and its procedures will need to be accessible to pupils, in a language they can understand, if they are to apply it. Discussing the relevant parts of the AUP will help pupils draw up and agree Responsible Use Rules for their classroom.
- Educate students on how to be safe online and when using ICT. Internet Safety teaching and learning resources help enable pupils to discuss their use of the Internet and to learn how to safeguard themselves and others when online. Webwise working with primary and post-primary teacher support groups has created classroom resources mapped to the curriculum and the NCCA ICT Framework.
- Be part of a content filtering/monitoring system. While the Schools Broadband Programme (SBP), managed by the PDST Technology in Education, offers all Irish schools content filtered broadband, increasingly, smartphones and other Internet-enabled personal devices are becoming the norm for pupils. Children are able to go online in a wide variety of ways e.g. their games console, their laptop, their phone. While the “computers in their pockets” have great teaching and learning value they will not be part of the school’s network and so will not be subject to the SBP content filtering. Educating them on the safe, ethical and responsible use of the Internet is the way to prepare them for an always-on “unfiltered” online life.
The school should combine all three of the above strategies rather than over reliance on one in order to help pupils become safe and responsible Internet users and to help them become digitally literate.