Threat of cyberbullying looms as e-classes begin

Threat of cyberbullying looms as e-classes begin

Parents in the city are concerned about the increased risk of untoward behaviour children exposed to as they spend more time online

John (name changed) of class 10 at a prestigious CBSE school in the city has been attending online classes since May 26. One day, the class saw an uninvited guest. “Someone entered the group call while classes were going on and started bullying the teacher. The person was not from that school,” says John’s mother. The incident shook the students and teacher. They had to end the class and restart again.

With schools adopting online learning, a larger number of children across the city are not only accessing the internet, but also spending more time online. The increased access to technology has made children more prone to cyber bullying and online predators.

Early on in April, UNICEF had warned families about the heightened risk of harm as their lives moved online during the lockdown. “Spending more time on virtual platforms can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic,”they said. 

A report by India Child Protection Fund (ICPF), a foundation that works towards protecting children from exploitation and abuse, titled ‘Child Sexual Abuse Material’ showed that demand for child pornography increased during the lockdown. The report revealed that there has been a 200 per cent increase in demand for violent material in connection with children. It also showed an increase in demand for searches like ‘child porn’, ‘sexy child’ and ‘teen sex videos’. 

The report asserts the importance for parents, students and teachers to be alert during online classes. 

School measures 

Greenwood High has been conducting online classes since start of June for its students from grade 6 to 12. They have issued guidelines to deal with instances of cyber bullying, which have been shared with parents. The guidelines ask parents to educate their children on cyber safety, keeping soft and hard copies of all such incidents and to avoid engaging in untoward behaviour online. “Students need to be taught how to behave and communicate through digital media. Encouraging open conversations between students, teachers and parents also helps a lot in addressing this issue,” says Aloysius D’Mello, principal. 

Canadian International School conducts a digital bootcamp for all students and parents at the beginning of each academic year to understand their responsibilities to keep the community safe. This concludes with their signing the ‘CIS IT Responsible Use Agreement’ to ensure that all families understand and commit to the expectations of technology use on and off campus. 

“While no school is 100 percent free of bullying, our core values of integrity, caring, respect, inspiration, and joy gives students a voice to express themselves in a healthy way and at the same time allowing students to learn from their mistakes and continue their learning journey,” says Dr Ted Mockrish, head of school.

In order to ensure that outsiders cannot enter their virtual classes, they rely on security mechanisms such as firewalls,  waiting rooms, unique passwords to enter sessions and limiting the user’s ability to share screens.

Parental supervision important   

Gloria (name changed), however, says that without the watchful gaze of their parents, the child is likely to stray away from class, citing an incident when she caught her daughter watching a YouTube video while in class. 

However, for parents of older children the concern is that petty classroom politics can transpire into bullying. Shobha (name changed), says that she once caught her 14-year-old daughter’s classmates discussing excluding a classmate.

“You could ignore it as a petty fight, but things could also escalate. Ideally, the teacher should step in and put an end to it,” she says. 

However, having constant parental supervision is not a feasible option in families with two working parents. In many cases, schools ask parents to leave the students alone during class time to avoid helicopter parenting. 

In a recent interview with a media organisation police commissioner Bhaskar Rao spoke about the importance of keeping private lives private.

He urged parents to avoid sharing photos and videos of their family and children for the world to see. 

Kuldeep Jain, DCP (Crime) says that while there has been an increase in cybercrimes over the lockdown period, there have not been any cases with child victims. However, with e-learning, this could easily change.

“Parents have to be on high alert and play a greater role in their child’s school activities,” he says.

Use laptops or desktops instead of mobile phones, he says, in order to set up firewalls. Parents need to set controls to restrict access to other websites during class and they need to teach their children to be careful while online.

“Do not open any links or videos sent to you, especially from an unknown person,” he advises. 

In case of an incident of cyber bullying, the victim can file an FIR at the closest Cyber Economic Narcotics stations, he adds. 

Guidelines from NCERT 

The education regulatory body has released guidelines for safe online learning in the times of Covid-19 pandemic. These guidelines developed by NCERT and UNESCO India jointly aims to prevent any act of cyberbullying.

The guidelines are in three parts — aimed at schools, students and teachers — and they outline the do’s and don’ts to follow to stay safe online. Here are a few of them:

Do

Create a strong password.

Report and flag content that is abusive or illegal.

Report online bullying immediately to teacher/ parents/ someone whom you trust.

Communicate only with known people and use an alias as username if you need to chat with others online.

Think twice while posting photos and videos on social media sites.

Keep browser, operating system and antivirus up-to-date.

Don’t

Save your username and password on the browser.

Bully others online by posting something that is rude, hurtful or embarrassing. 

Log in to someone else’s account to access the private texts/mails/messages or to mess with their profile.

Meet people you’ve known only online; inform an adult.

Open emails and attachments from strangers.

Enter a password when someone is sitting beside you as they may see it.

What is cyberbullying?

It is bullying that happens over digital devices by sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone causing embarrassment or humiliation. This can take place over email, text, online forums, social media and even gaming.