Northern Ireland news

Teachers fear for children's safety online during coronavirus crisis

UTU General Secretary Jacquie White

TEACHERS say they fear for pupils' security and are urging parents to talk to their children about safe surfing online.

Jacquie White, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, was speaking after the Department of Education launched its Safer Schools app.

Parents and carers will be able to access advice on information on social media platforms popular with their children and their friends.

School staff will have access to a range of resources and up-to-date safeguarding information.

"Despite the wave of goodwill which is helping sustain the country through this pandemic, there are also darker elements at play, ready to exploit the situation," Ms White said.

"For this reason we fear for our children's safety as many are probably understandably spending extra hours on their laptops and are open to exploitation there.

"Schools consistently teach about staying safe online through a number of programmes within the key stage curricula but without these constant reminders and given the extraordinary circumstances we're in, we fear some children might be innocently drawn into dangerous online situations."

Ms White added that Europol had reported increased online activity by those seeking child abuse material.

"While the internet is more important than ever in helping educate children, entertaining them and keeping them in touch with friends, because there may be fewer online moderators scanning for inappropriate material, this could result in an increased risk of exposure to harmful content or exploitation," she said.

"Similarly social media platforms we're told are relying increasingly on AI to moderate their content, which could again allow more harmful content to get through.

"For these reasons it's more important than ever for parents and carers to have regular conversations with their children about what they're doing online."

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