NetSupport joined the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) in January 2016. Al Kingsley blogs for us about international challenges in the education sector and how we can find solutions to the issues of safeguarding in the digital age.
From working with customers and organisations across the world - such as the Kenyan Ministry of Education, the Philippines’ Department of Education, the Malaysian Ministry of Education, the UAE’s Smart Learning Programme and the Saudi Ministry of Education to name but a few - NetSupport sees first-hand what challenges are facing the education sector internationally.
What challenges do we face?
One trend is the steady rise in the number of newly-implemented and updated safeguarding policies brought in by governments and education bodies to help protect young people from a wide range of safeguarding issues. In 2016, for example, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) saw the introduction of a Federal Child Rights Law – and the subsequent release by the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) of a new Child Protection Policy, which applies to all public and private schools in Abu Dhabi. Teachers from nursery to senior level will be trained in their responsibilities under the new legislation, what to look for, and how to report safeguarding concerns.
One of the reasons for these developments is the increasing use of technology in schools. Although it benefits teaching and learning outcomes, it does open up a whole new way to connect, communicate and learn. This can lead to inappropriate online content being accessed or provide a platform where negative behaviour can escalate. Cyberbullying is one such behaviour that is a growing problem across many countries, including the UAE. A recent study of 1,054 UAE students found that 40 per cent of them had been bullied in this way, reports the Khaleej Times. What’s more, approximately 60 per cent of the students were aware of someone who had experienced this unpleasant form of attack.
What can we do?
Just as technology plays its part in spreading such problems in schools, it also has a significant role to play in defeating them. NetSupport’s complete solution, NetSupport DNA, contains IT asset management, classroom management and a safeguarding module, which is designed to promote digital monitoring and to encourage students to act responsibly online.
Working with the IWF, safeguarding leads, partners and schools, we developed a sophisticated keyword and phrase monitoring tool which, amongst others, uses IWF’s Keywords List. IWF’s list is a unique list of cryptic terms associated with child sexual abuse content which other keyword lists would not detect. IWF analysts are experts in combatting online abuse and their list is manually updated each month, which makes it the most up-to-date list out there.
We know that online challenges are global issues that don’t respect national borders. That’s why our monitoring tool now includes more language packs than ever before; allowing schools to gain an insight into what students are typing, searching for or copying, regardless of what language or regional dialect they are using. Alerts can be triggered for any terms a school regards as being of high severity, which help staff to take action quickly across a range of safeguarding issues, such as cyberbullying, eating disorders, mental health and so on.
Keeping schools one step ahead of the challenge
Another way to combat safeguarding issues would be to restrict everything that could be seen as a risk, but, in reality, that’s impractical and would impact learning. Instead, using internet metering, schools can see which sites are being accessed and block the ones which are deemed inappropriate, such as social media sites where cyberbullying can take place.
Working together with our partners is incredibly important to reach our goal of keeping schools ahead of the challenge - and IWF’s work and their technical services help us in doing that internationally.