Teachers get used to being flung new documents, work within more guidelines, constantly chasing further targets to be met each school year. When legislation appears to overcomplicate a system that already works or to justify a new election position, it is understandable why teachers feel as though there is always a new stick with which to beat the teacher. However, the timely release of today's 'Teaching Online Safety in Schools' at #HowSafe 2019 might come as an understandable addition to our school curriculum. Teachers, Pastoral Leads, Deputy Heads are often spending valuable time, solving issues which have arisen from social media, online behaviour and misunderstandings from digital communication.
The teachers we have spoken to as part of our research for Natterhub, agree that our education system ought to be preparing children for life-long learning and recognise that children have a fluid approach to their online and offline lives. Pupils, outside of school, seamlessly move between the two but a new precedent has been set for too many children; two sets of rules apply to their behaviour and the consequence of their online actions is far-reaching. The media reports of the fatal impacts of social media gone wrong, of the impact on developing minds and mental wellbeing due to the endless reminder of unobtainable life goals and body image. The 'mob mentality' of groups of people behind the screen can effectively erode children's self-esteem and just as in real life, it is not necessarily the strangers we need to worry about, but the friendship groups and gangs that emerge within the school grounds. Children need to have an inherent understanding of why we need to function online with empathy and those on the receiving end, have the resilience to cope with poor choices. Online awareness is imperative, rules need to be made and adhered to and knowledge of how to manage an online life, as a child in an adult world, needs to be structured and organised. It is part of our everyday business, our everyday communication, our everyday relationships, our everyday knowledge retrieval.
The DfE release today of the 32-page document on 'Teaching Online Safety in Schools' is well-scoped, straightforward and sensible. After years of research, planning and feedback from teachers, children and parents, we were delighted that this document wholeheartedly supports what we have built for our launch in Autumn 2019. Natterhub is a genuine solution to the proposals made in this document.
"It is therefore important to focus on the underpinning knowledge and behaviours that can help pupils to navigate the online world safely"
'Knowledge and behaviours' are what Natterhub is designed around. We have built a safe, gated framework, populated it with researched, world-class lesson content and we are supporting children to navigate their digital experiences through simulation of the real online world. When children have been taught in a way that emulates what happens in real life, the risk of understanding getting lost in skill transference is minimised. Natterhub is the educational role model that our children need in their school environment which will set them up for life-long learning. Children need to understand the importance and impact of their behaviour online; the lure to hide behind the screen might be tempting and we need to foster the idea that it is entirely unacceptable to behave in a way that would not occur face to face.
"We recommend that schools embed teaching about online safety and harms within a whole school approach"
Digital communication ought to be embedded in our cross-curricular planning because of the societal impact this is having in 2019. It should not be anecdotal, nor should it be taught in a non-digital way. We have the tools and the technology to offer children what they need to learn, to navigate the challenges and to understand the risks but moreover, we live in a digital world and our primary classrooms are still predominantly analogue. We need to choose our ed-tech time carefully and screen time needs limiting but if ever there was a subject to teach via a safe, well-designed, gated social media style platform, it is that of Online Safety and Harms.
“distinguishing fact from opinion as well as exploring freedom of speech and the role and responsibility of the media”
As educators, we need to prepare our children for their lives beyond the classroom and if we are not to be infantilised by technology, we need to educate our children to question the value of what they see, read and process online. They have a right to learn the importance of becoming savvy, sceptical online users, with the skills to develop their own opinions based on reliable sources. Whilst teachers are already stretching their resources to cover an ever-increasing set of targets, perhaps it is time to shuffle our Victorian hierarchy of subjects and make room for more prevalent and pressing issues?
Caroline Allams Co-Founder, Natterhub