Put online safety and digital literacy on school curriculum, say TDs

Online safety and digital literacy must be introduced to the school curriculum, from pre-school to secondary level, to better protect and equip children to thrive in a digital world, politicians and NGOs have agreed.
Put online safety and digital literacy on school curriculum, say TDs
Urban school girl with ipad tablet.
Urban school girl with ipad tablet.

Online safety and digital literacy must be introduced to the school curriculum,  from pre-school to secondary level, to better protect and equip children to thrive in a digital world, politicians and NGOs have agreed.

"We need to equip children to use the internet safely and for empowerment," Social Democrat TD Jennifer Whitmore  told a webinar about child safety online organised by the Children's Rights Alliance and youth organisations.

Education and research should also be key to the new position of Online Safety Commissioner, a new role which NGOs have been calling for to specifically police and promote safety online, she said.

Unequal access to the internet was raised as a major concern by all parties as the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the importance of access to reliable, fast internet for work, social connection and education. Labour senator Annie Hoey called for the State to take control of internet infrastructure as internet access is now "a rights issue" and has "been a lifeline" to so many people through the Covid-19 crisis.

"It should be State-led, owned by the people, and rights based,"  said Ms Hoey.

"If you can't access the internet due to your situation, you can't access education. If people can't access it they're being locked out of opportunities."

Concerns were raised about children being targeted as consumers online, and all parties agreed that this "commercial exploitation" needed to stop.

A new online safety commissioner should be given "the teeth" to compel tech giants into compliance and to prohibit online data collection from children, Ms Hoey said.

Green Party TD Patrick Costello said the current data protection act already has teeth, but that the commission still needs investment to halt the "huge micro-targeting" of advertising online to both children and adults.

He said an online safety commissioner should work closely with the Data Protection Commissioner to protect children's data online.

Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell   said an online safety commissioner would work to suppress cyber bullying and access to dangerous material on topics like self-harm and would strictly regulate children's advertising.

He also raised concerns about automatic recommendations on platforms such as Youtube after he saw a child who had been watching the Disney cartoon Frozen be recommended a video promoting gun ownership by the blind algorithm.

He intimated that Ireland could play a key role in internet regulation as it hosts two major social media platforms - Twitter and Facebook - while also being part of the EU and party to its rules and regulations.

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