Pauline Spence, Community Success Specialist at Linewize, explores online safety in schools and kura, with a focus on supporting the youth, their online experiences, and what schools can do to protect their students. She will delve further into these issues at the Law for School Guidance Counsellors on Wednesday 9 June.
Where does online safety fit, whose responsibility is it to support young people in this space and what guidance is there around what’s needed?
Online safety has long been a topic of conversation in school and kura staff rooms. With the rapid uptake of technology across the education sector, the desire to enhance and facilitate empowered, online learning while also ensuring those learning spaces are safe, has been a challenge.
Historically, online safety learning and development didn’t officially ‘belong’ anywhere. It didn’t fit within a curriculum area and the blurred boundaries between home and school meant that expectations and responsibility were often hard to define. Over time, however, a greater awareness of the link between wellbeing and online safety has developed along with an understanding of how conversations can easily fit within existing frameworks in place within schools.
To support this awareness and facilitate conversations, approaches and learning, the MoE released their Statement of National Education and Learning Priorities (NELP) for early learning centres, kōhanga reo, schools and kura in 2020. The statement follows on from the government’s Wellbeing Budget (2019), the release of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy (2019) and outlines the Ministry’s goals and key priorities for education in New Zealand.
NELP highlights the need for schools and kura to partner with families and whānau to ensure learning responds to and recognises individual and community needs, values and culture. It acknowledges the importance of Te Reo Māori and Tikanga Māori, and the barriers that exist for young people including our Māori and Pacific students and those with support needs. It also prioritises the wellbeing of young people, requiring schools and kura to ensure students are safe from harm, particularly racism, discrimination, and bullying.
What do we know about young people’s online experiences of harm, discrimination, racism, and bullying?
Bullying, racism and discrimination are not new to New Zealand and sadly are becoming more prevalent given the rapid uptake of technology and the anonymity many of the popular online platforms afford users. As the use of digital devices and online spaces increases, especially in schools, we are seeing those behaviours becoming more commonplace with the rise of the keyboard warrior and the ability to post and share content freely.
In a 2019 study, Netsafe, as part of the Global Kids Online Network, found a quarter of children have been bothered or upset by something that happened online in the last year. 36% of the participating 13-17-year-olds said they had been exposed to violent images when engaging online.
Research into harm online found that 70% of teens in NZ had received unwanted digital communications in the previous year, 74% said it had happened more than once, and 28% of those receiving unwanted communications said the experience had a significant impact on their day to day lives, including the ability to attend school.
So what does NELP mean for schools’ online safety and wellbeing approaches?
Schools and kura understand the intrinsic link between online safety and wellbeing. Strengthening the whānau-school relationship not only helps educators acknowledge different cultures when developing online safety and supporting wellbeing, but importantly enables them to respond appropriately when unique needs and challenges arise.
By placing students – with their whānau – at the centre of education, NELP clearly highlights the need for schools and kura to partner with families and communities. The power of working alongside families and whānau to improve outcomes for young people is significant and the Ministry has identified key actions for schools including:
- Talking to young people and their whānau about their experiences of racism, discrimination and bullying and then using learnings to inform next steps.
- Ensuring the skills and attitudes needed are developed in young people with the support of families and whānau.
- Having processes in place to address concerns around racism, bullying and discrimination.
NELP also identified key actions needed, including amending the Education Act to ensure schools and kura prioritise the provision of emotionally and physically safe learning environments for students.
How can schools ensure places of learning are safe, inclusive and free of racism, discrimination and bullying?
While the online space offers incredible opportunities for learning, exploration, communication and creativity, both research and anecdotal information gathered acknowledges the increased chance of risk and harm for its users. Harm online can spread quickly, be viewed by many, and the longevity of what’s posted means that managing and minimising harm can be challenging.
Knowing what to do to support young people and who to reach out to for additional advice, can be a minefield. Having a transparent and thorough process in place for managing harm is important, even more so ensuring these are unpacked with all staff. Staff who feel empowered to respond quickly, effectively and with confidence to online incidents create an environment where students are more likely to continue to seek help when they feel supported and heard.
Reviewing and updating existing policies and procedures can seem like a mountainous task but it doesn’t need to be. It’s not about recreating the wheel and starting afresh but rather identifying what works currently, where any gaps are and then gathering any guidance needed to make sure processes are robust, efficient and reflect current best practice.
Schools and kura need to have a sound understanding of existing legislation such as the Privacy Act and the Harmful Digital Communications Act (HDCA), understand the implications for schools and ensure these are reflected in school policy. What kinds of information can schools collect? How can that information be used, stored and shared? What is a school’s obligation to report on behalf of a young person with their consent under the HDCA? How can it support when online incidents occur?
While ensuring schools and kura can respond to online harm quickly and effectively is important, it is only a part of what’s needed. Schools also need to be proactively addressing online safety though meaningful, appropriate education as well as robust filtering systems. To help schools ensure places of learning are safe, inclusive and free of racism, discrimination and bullying and that they are meeting their duty of care obligations around safe learning environments and wellbeing, proactive, real-time internet monitoring and filtering are recommended. School online filtering plays a significant role in creating environments where both students and staff can engage and learn safely.
A teacher at heart, Pauline Spence has worked within the education sector for over 20 years, spending time both inside & outside of the classroom. Following 14 years teaching & consulting overseas, she returned home to New Zealand with a real drive to support schools, students & families around wellbeing. After three and a half years working with Netsafe, educating & supporting schools as their Education Advisor, Pauline joined Linewize as Community Success Specialist at the end of 2020. Pauline continues to work closely with schools around the country as they look to implement online safety initiatives and engage with their families & whānau. Connect with Pauline via LinkedIn
Linewize by Family Zone not only provides tools and resources to help prevent harm online during school time but also tools to support, educate and empower families in cyber safety. The result is a strengthening of the partnership between home and school, so talk to the Linewize team about your school’s needs and how they can help.