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Managing young digital footprints: online safety in education

Rory Dixon, a year 5 classroom teacher, has written a guest piece about the importance of balancing online safety with educational experience.

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Rory Dixon is a Year 5 classroom teacher and computing lead at Hesketh with Becconsall All Saints C of E primary school. Rory has been a Promethean advocate since 2016 and at Bett2017 he delivered an interactive session entitled The Science of Music. With his wealth of pedagogical experience, he’s written a guest piece about the importance of balancing online safety with educational experience.

I have witnessed too many significant online incidents over recent years within my school community. These incidents could have been avoided by delivering the right online safety education to the right children, at the right time. So, the issue of online safety is massively important to me.

Online safety is an increasingly prevalent issue. As a society, and more specifically as an educational system, we have to treat each threat as potentially dangerous. If we don’t deal with online safety effectively, we allow children to grow up and be nurtured in a fully immersive online culture. Without the correct tools and support, children may struggle to navigate their way and make informed decisions.

Safety first

I expect that as parents, most of us would teach children basic safety rules what not to put in our mouths, what to do before crossing the road, and to be careful when using scissors or knives. Yet the same level of education doesn’t go into showing children how to use a mobile device or how to safely manage their digital footprint.

We have online filters, that albeit aren’t perfect, to block out things we don’t want our children to see. However, inappropriate material only scratches the surface of the potential risks of going online. Behaviour and conduct are nuances that filters struggle to help with.

Balancing safety with experience

We need to prioritise online safety whilst also teaching children the amazing things the Internet is capable of. How, if used positively, it can benefit our own lives tremendously. We need to show them that, even though bad things might happen, they can be ready for it.

We cannot keep children inside a bubble that protects them from everything, but we can equip them to deal with the unexpected.

As Rory highlights, there is more dependence on digital platforms and online edtech in the modern classroom, so online safety is an increasingly important issue. The internet provides a playground of interactive and inspiring tools for students, and digital literacy will be a native language to our youngest generation.

At the same time, we need to stay vigilant. Educating children about common red flags and deploying a rigorous filter is essential, so pupils can enjoy the benefits of free and open educational content.