Cyber Safety: An option or obligation for schools?

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Viren Aul
Group Director, Cyber Council Consortium

When the incident occurred, the school, the student or the parent had no idea what was to unfold. What appeared to be a somewhat trivial situation among friends – became a disturbing, stressful, costly (and not just financial) incident that took its toll in more ways than anyone may have imagined. Let’s talk more about this here in a moment.

The school as a learning environment holds many responsibilities – to students, parents and community at large. It also represents an environment where a good portion of time is spent in formative years – shaping a broad spectrum of learning in the classroom, playground and other venues of social and academic interaction. Cyber Space has become one such formidable venue with rapidly growing academic, professional and social influence, each closely interrelated. ‘I didn’t imagine any of that!’ When the cyber dust subsided a bit (thought still far from settled several months on) – that’s really what it boiled down to – ‘I didn’t imagine any of that!’

The incident which may well have been circumvent with simple support when it originated, or even be completely avoided with some basic core and cyber skills, unfortunately spiralled into an episode impacting the school, students concerned as well as peers, parents and other external entities. In hindsight, it was a lesson learnt in harsh and hard ways for everyone. Was it the immediate and impervious psychological impact, the very unnecessary legal languish, or the financial factor that drove home the point eventually?

Neither!—It was the realisation that prolonged depression, school morale, personality shift, cyber bullying, defamation, impersonation, resulting family discord, academic impact, implications of law, multiple interventions, Rs five+ lack of expense were all unwarranted. Not to mention that in current scheme of things, this is a small incident in the rapidly rising shadow side of cyber space. Still unfortunate in 9 out of 10 cases, by the time some action is taken, it is too little too late.
So where does the school play a role? and why? An ‘ounce of prevention in worth a pound of cure’ has a lot to say for cyber safety. Schools have the unique opportunity and accountability to develop core and cyber skills amongst students as well as staff and parents, all playing crucial part in a combined effort to prevent, detect and minimise impact of incidents fast rising.

Cyber reality

Cyber Space is no longer the perceived escape from reality, it is very much reality related with our school, home or workplace – with real and often radical impact, be that academic, professional, social, psychological, financial, legal or other. In many ways, ‘cyber safety’ is a rather mild term now. Why!? Well, for one, simply the question “How safe is safe?” This deserves every bit more attention than is being granted by most at present!

What do 16 cyber crimes a minute mean to educators? Or the fact that India is at third globally in cyber bullying and cyber stalking? Maybe more than 80 percent of occurrences being unaddressed has something to say? Could it be the education institutions alarming #5 rank in exposure we need to address? Or is the $2.1+ trillion projected impact of cyber crimes by 2019 our point of concern? 75 percent+ students in India being below benchmark in core and cyber skills is cause of worry by any measure!

More children know about the ‘dark web’ than they do about ‘secure websites’ – and they that’s just one simple alarming example. Quantitatively and qualitatively the impact in real and rising – Do we really need to see more counter impact on academic grades, social well being, professional calibre, action each influenced immensely at school.
So, how best we unravel this situation? There is a far more concerted, continuous, committed effort required in aid of rapidly growing risk and exposure – online and offline. In simplest sense, the choice now is between a proactive or passive stance – and those in either camp can see impact clearly.

Key factors

Some key factors that senior educators, administrators and global executives are pressing for.

  • School have a definite and clear responsibility to create skilled savvy netizens.
  • Effort required by schools is not just for students, but for the institution and community at large.
  • We are well past the “nice to know” stage with regards to core and cyber skills development.
  • These ‘must have’ core skills are closely tied to 12 inter-related human factors or origination.
  • For any meaningful impact, educators have onus to lead with affirmative action.

A question I have found increasingly compelling of late…we teach/learn math and science and history and geography each year for at least 12 straight years of education, each subject with their own relevance and role in varying degrees, to which such education is then applied. However, with cyber space practically impacting every area of our lives – at work, home and everything in between, in pretty much any field of interest, transaction, communication, interaction any given day – how (why) do core and cyber skills remain optional areas of learning and development? Cyber space is changing every day! Are we keeping up?

As individuals and as institutions we are spending increasing amount of time online – with direct bearing on children, parents, educators, professionals and the collective. Reflecting on some of the enrichment programmes and curriculum implemented so far, the situation is real and radical to point where the gap on practical learning, applied knowledge and core skills will be increasingly hard to address, the longer this space is overlooked. While it is assuring to see what tangible impact the right learning continuum can create, there is a lot that educational institutions can convene, via their own foresight and leadership.
Cyber Council commenced work with schools in India last year implementing core and cyber skills enrichment programs for students from age 8 to 18, also including parents and staff. Email: office@cybercouncil.org

Viren Aul is Group Director at Cyber Council Consortium. The council provides pioneering solutions designed for a wide mix of individual and institutional beneficiaries in the cyber space. Some of their unique solutions comprise core enrichment programmes related with agile platforms, core skills, digital asset controls, edu-tech, VR and real-time cyber safeguards. The council has been engaging in funding innovations based on social and economic value of growth ventures. Since last year, Cyber Council Consortium has been instigated in Indian schools, implementing core and cyber skills enrichment programmes for students in the age group of 8-18 years as well as parents and school staff.