The 9th February 2016 was International Safer Internet Day when organisations across the world joined together to promote the safe and responsible use of digital technology for children. The day also marked my 10 years of teaching the (ISC)² Foundation’s Safe and Secure Online lessons at schools across the United Kingdom. To celebrate, I visited Robert Bloomfield Academy in the midlands area to speak to over 900, 9-13-year-old students about Internet safety. Robert Bloomfield Academy has consistently been rated ‘Outstanding’ by Ofsted (UK regulators) and specialises in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects, boasting a lot of hi-tech equipment from 3D printers and scanners to laser-cutters, a music ICT suite, and dozens of iPads. It takes the use of technology - and more importantly the responsible use of technology - very seriously.
The day’s event also attracted national and regional media attention, with TV film crews from ITV and the BBC attending to learn more about the issues and hear from students first-hand about their experiences and online behaviour. With the event being broadcast on the lunchtime and evening news, and 900 children going home wiser and keen to share their experience with families, I get great personal satisfaction out of knowing that the effort had a significant impact.
For me personally, it's been a huge pleasure presenting Safe and Secure Online over the last 10 years. As a security professional I understand the challenges of keeping businesses safe and it is fantastic that organisations such as the (ISC)² Foundation encourage professionals to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation.
As a self-employed consultant, I am able to do this on my personal time, and I am aware that many of my colleagues are able to get support from their employers to take time out for the programme. This year we were able to organise a full day for the entire school and then a separate session for the adults, helping the teachers and parents reinforce what the children have learned—and to avoid the pitfalls themselves! It has been a massive task, with technology moving so fast, to ensure my presentations are relevant each time.
What makes the role most enjoyable is the interaction with the young students. They all engage extremely well and often ask tricky questions which keeps me on my toes too. It is so satisfying knowing that the students, teachers and parents are genuinely interested in their safety online and that they have the knowledge to help them stay secure whilst enjoying their online experiences.
Over the years we have seen online behaviour change dramatically, and teaching internet safety to youngsters has become more important than ever before. One key observation I have seen over the years is that the students are getting online at a younger age. Guidance given to 12 and 13 year olds only a few years ago is now essential for 9 and 10 year olds. This must be attributed to the fact that technology has become more accessible along with faster and cheaper Internet access.
With younger students having access to the Internet there can only be an increased desire to use social media applications and interactive games where they are able to communicate and share personal thoughts. The (ISC)² team and media observed first hand at Robert Bloomfield Academy that around 75% of the year 5 and 6 (9-10-year-old) students I spoke to admitted they use Instagram even though the recommended minimum age is 13 years.
This level of connectivity means they are highly susceptible to online dangers, particularly on new anonymous/image based platforms like Snapchat, Viber, and Kik. While playing online games, they are susceptible to being bullied by friends or strangers, and to even to losing money. Children are reporting that they have lost players to hacking that they had purchased or earned in online card packs within their interactive team football (soccer) game.
I strongly believe it is too difficult to stop younger students accessing social media and interactive games. These are all issues that most parents haven’t had a chance to learn about themselves. Perhaps my greatest motivation for volunteering my time and effort is a recognition of the impact those who are alert to the risks can have through programmes like Safe and Secure Online. We all have a part to play in helping younger students stay safe online, and ultimately preparing a safer cyber world for the next generation.-- Kevin Gourlay, Lead Volunteer at (ISC)² Foundation’s Safe and Secure Online Programme