CS Mucheru: Kenyan parents struggling to control online content for children
ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru has decried increasing cases of children accessing inappropriate content following the closure of schools over the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking during a Press briefing on Sunday, the CS noted that there has been significant increase in the use of technology over the past three months as most of the learning is taking place online.
“We’ve also seen that as people use technology families are straining to understand how to manage and control how their kids are using either mobile devices or laptops,” Mucheru said.
He directed that the Communications Authority work extremely closely with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to ensure that children are protected online and parents learn how to filter websites from harmful content.
“You’ve heard previously Prof. Magoha (Education CS) talking about current issues we are having with pornography and other vices that are there online,” he added.
According to CS Mucheru, within the next 7 days, the Communication Authority and ISPs will be expected to give a very clear roadmap on how to train internet users to ensure that the Kenyan ‘cyberspace is safe’.
“We want parents to know that there are methods of controlling what is viewable for the young people. I thank the media for the content they have been releasing. It’s been good to see that for the educational content a lot of that is being provided by broadcast media both TV and radio and that is really helping families keep children occupied,” he said.
Children at risk of cyber bullying
Children are accessing the internet at a younger age, spending longer online and are at greater risk of cyber bullying as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps them at home, a U.N. agency said in May.
The Geneva-based International Telecommunications Union (ITU) estimated that 1.5 billion children are out of school due to lockdown measures to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, forcing them to go online for their schooling but also their social lives and hobbies.
“Many children are coming online earlier than their parents had intended, at much earlier ages, and without the necessary skills to protect themselves whether it is from online harassment or cyber bullying,” Doreen Bogdan-Martin, an ITU director, told an online briefing.
“The other thing is the length [of time] children are spending online whether simply for schooling or for entertainment, gaming, socializing… after their learning is completed,” she said.
How parents can protect children
Experts say there are two important things parents can do to protect their children from the dangers of online: Pay attention to their internet habits, and teach them how to surf the web carefully.
“As parents, we have to constantly be vigilant,” said Bruce Friend, the chief operating officer of Aurora Institute, formerly known as the International Association for K-12 Online Learning.
“If you notice any warning signs, where they are spending more time online or on their phone, especially at night, there are calls coming in that seem to be out of the ordinary, go look at the history, see what’s going on.”
Parents should keep their child’s computer or tablet in a common area when they do their online work and for older students, keep a close eye on family credit cards for any unusual charges, according to Friend.
With many students now doing remote learning from home, Friend said it’s also important for educators to help protect children from online abuse.
Teachers should keep the scope of assignments narrow and make sure the website they are instructing students to visit are trusted.
“Even the most benign of words, if you stick it into Google, it could produce some rather interesting search results,” Friend said.
At one school in South Carolina, students are required to take a digital citizenship course that covers online safety, Meaghan Quillen, who runs the district’s virtual school program, said.
Parents also have access to this course on an optional basis.
“We encourage parents of the young ones to have full access to the student’s online credentials,” Quillen told CNN over the phone. “We tell students to never share any images of themselves or a classmate with anybody online.”
Additional report from Reuters and CNN