No doubt about it, technology is one of man’s most profound inventions in the face of modern civilization. With the advent of computers our lives have been transformed from manual to automatic, dictated by algorithms and scripts executed with just a single click. The way we live is a far cry from how our ancestors functioned and survived. You don’t have to move from your computer or laptop to do research to write essays. What’s more interesting is how rapid innovations come and go in the age of the internet. Social media, a concrete example of technology’s life-changing contributions, has shaped the way we communicate, absorb, and relay information. While social media has made the world a smaller place, it has also been used as an avenue of threat and weapon of crimes.
The rampant presence of cyberbullying has prompted authorities to act on the issue especially among juvenile users by including ‘consent classes’ to the school curriculum, as announced by Damian Hinds, Education Secretary. This initiative aims to educate children starting from the age of four up to eleven years old about consent, and a set of rules and principles on how to protect themselves online. Students will also be taught why social media sites, online gaming sites, and console games have age restrictions.
In 2017, former education secretary Justine Greening pushed for a revised sex and relationships education among schools, citing ‘21st century issues’ such as sexting and cyberbullying as vital topics to tackle. Prior to this, the sex and relationships guidelines had been last modified during the year 2000. Back then, social media’s presence wasn’t as substantial as today.
“The world’s changed a lot since then, not least the online risks that our children and young people face, whether cyberbullying, the huge amount of inappropriate material that is on the internet and sex – so we now need to update this guidance.” Greening announced, in a report by The Independent.
Recently, the Department of Education has required schools to incorporate sex and relationship education with statutory guidance and an updated curriculum tackling issues surrounding social media responsibility.
Greening has also mentioned the importance of discussing sexual health and risks, consent, and understanding boundaries. The new guidelines will include awareness on laws surrounding sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse as well as information on how to create respectful online and offline relationships.
The number of children sexually assaulting other children has risen to almost 30,000 in the last four years, with experts citing pornography as a trigger for such behaviors. Figures show a number of 2,625 sexual offenses, including 225 alleged rapes, committed by minors within school premises, including school playgrounds. Police report also shows that children as young as four have been interviewed for suspicion of sexual assault, rape, and pornography, and that hundreds have been kicked out and expelled in the past four years after being caught engaging in sexual acts including accessing pornography.
The government has urged schools to take responsibility and that they have a legal duty to report allegations of sexual assaults on children by adults, and that any allegation should be directly reported to the police.
Damian Hinds says that the government should carry out their role in protecting children from the internet’s darker sides, and work hand in hand with parents in doing so. He also emphasizes the importance of education as an effective tool of raising responsible internet usage among students and recognizing ‘potential dangers for themselves.’ Social media companies also have a ‘moral responsibility’ to protect children, and that they should do better than just labelling a site as only for adults.
“Many of today’s problems didn’t exist when we last gave schools guidance on how to teach relationships and sex education 18 years ago.” Hinds also adds that: “It’s high time we updated these subjects, which are so important in helping young people become happy, well-rounded and better able to deal with the challenges of the modern world.”
Matt Hancock, the Culture Secretary, earlier suggested that mobile phones should be banned and should be confiscated at the start of the school day. While Hancock urges other teachers to follow in the footsteps of colleagues who have already done so, Hinds doesn’t agree on the said proposal. He says that it is for the head teacher to make the decision rather than a politician.
“As a society, we can’t switch off the internet nor would we want to.” He also adds, “But we must make sure that everyone, especially children, can navigate the virtual world, as well as knowing when it’s time to step away and make most of the real one.”
He exclaims that back then children didn’t have to face the scrutiny and pressures of trying to cope up in the online world. “Today children have to learn to cope in two worlds: the virtual one and the real one – and this is giving old problems a dangerous new edge.”