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Raft of cyber-safety initiatives recommended

Cyber education for children should start in preschool, the Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety has said.

More than a year in the making, the committee’s High-Wire Act report made dozens of recommendations to parliament on how to educate children and teenagers on remaining safe in the increasingly complex online environment.

The first recommendation called on Early Childhood Minister Peter Garrett to consider providing cyber-safety lessons in pre-schools and kindergartens.

“It seems sensible that schools introduce cyber-safety when they introduce computers and online access … Unfortunately, it is just too late, because children have already developed a set of habits and practices,” it said.

The report also called for the Attorney-General to work with state and territory counterparts to develop a “nationally consistent legislative approach to add certainty to the authority of schools to deal with incidents of inappropriate student behaviour to other students out of school hours”.

Garrett should recommend to the ministerial council of education that a national core standard for cyber-safety education in schools be developed, the report said, as well as a national scheme to encourage all schools to introduce ‘acceptable use’ agreements governing online access. The council should also encourage schools to familiarise their students, teachers and parents with the ThinkUKnow program and other resources of the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Other key recommendations included:
– Ensure sufficient funding is available to ensure ACMA can provide the necessary training for professional development of teachers
– Encourage all universities providing teacher training courses to ensure cyber-safety materials are incorporated in their core units
– Consider extending ACMA’s Connect-ED program and other training programs to non-administration staff in schools, including teacher librarians, chaplains and counsellors

A major part of the research carried out by the committee was a survey of 33,751 internet users aged between five and 18.

Committee chair Dana Wortley said one of the surprising discoveries in the research was just how integrated young people were with the internet.

“The results of this consultation highlight the fact that younger generations not only hold the key to their own safety, but also that their knowledge and risk management strategies are frequently undervalued. Young Australians have a wealth of experience with new technologies and are often more equipped to respond appropriately to online risks than is assumed,” she wrote in the report.

She said young people told the committee that the cyber-safety message needed to be age appropriate and suggested better ways to deliver the message and how it might be adapted.

“The most significant points to emerge from the range of material received by this Inquiry include the need for children and young people to be in control of their own experiences in the online environment through better education, knowledge and skills; the need for enhanced privacy provisions in the online environment; the need for research in many areas and, importantly, the need to assist parents/carers, teachers and all those who deal with young people to become more informed,” she said.

The myriad of stakeholders involved in promoting safer online environments requires innovative solutions. Governments, industry, organisations, schools and parents all play crucial roles but they cannot operate in isolation from each other, she said.

“Governments can play a leadership role and support the development of resources that are suitable for a diverse citizenry. Industry can ensure the safety of consumers, advance technological solutions and protections, and further drive their corporate social responsibilities. Schools are the key places to encourage young people to improve their own safety and online ethics.”

The committee said the role that parents play in the cyber-safety education of their children could not be understated.

The full report and related documents such as submissions can be found at: http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/jscc/report.htm


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