Tamil Nadu

Safety concerns abound as online classes for children become a reality

“Parents don’t really have a choice as the school wants them to take online classes. One of the key things is to have a conversation with the child,” says an MD of an organisation.

“Parents don’t really have a choice as the school wants them to take online classes. One of the key things is to have a conversation with the child,” says an MD of an organisation.   | Photo Credit: Bijoy Ghosh

With schools launching online classes there are concerns about children’s safety when they use the internet. Even pre-school toddlers are online now, with either alternate day or daily sessions.

Sahasrasree joined play school 10 days ago. Her father A. Sundar said she learns to identify animals in “an-hour-long class on alternate days.”

Vasantha B. shifted to the suburbs to monitor her 4-year-old granddaughter who has daily 3-hour sessions to learn rhymes. The child’s parents are working from home and cannot monitor her.

Aparna*, mother of an eight-year-old, said she had taught her daughter to carefully handle the internet. The child’s grandfather monitors her internet use.

“When she downloads a game she will check with me. It took us a year to teach her. She doesn’t chat or upload her photos online. She wanted to start a YouTube channel. I explained to her the pitfalls,” she said.

The NCERT has evolved guidelines for safe navigation of the internet for students. But there is little awareness about the guidelines. Though simple and clear, they have not been propagated to schools, said Patrick Rhymend, a school teacher.

Some schools have taken the lead to make children aware of the vulnerability of uploading every personal detail online.

A handful of schools in Coimbatore and Tirunelveli have taught students to protect themselves while online. The schools sought assistance from Dhanya Menon, a cyber security professional in neighbouring Kerala, who gave some sessions on internet safety in these schools.

“As an NGO we have been trying to bring awareness among parents and teachers for the last 10 years. The child needs to be reminded about the other side of the platform constantly. It has to be done at a very young age,” she said. According to her often treatment begins when the children have already started showing symptoms of addiction and exposure to the unnecessary sites on the internet.

She said only 17 schools in Karnataka, five in Tamil Nadu and one in her own State, Kerala, have sought her expertise so far.

Her sessions were helpful to children at Vivekalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Coimbatore, said M. Booma, principal. The weekly session for children aged over eight came at the time when the app Blue Whale had created a scare among parents. Ms. Menon’s age-appropriate training tools were helpful, she said.

Mythreyi Priya Arun, correspondent of Sri Jayendra Saraswathy Vidyalaya Instituitions, Coimbatore, and Ravilla KR Appaswamy Naidu educational institutions, Kovilpatti, held sessions for all children between classes 4 and 12.

“Some parents felt students did not require information about dark sites. If the danger is explained then the children are at least not exploited,” she said.

The children’s privacy was protected and the school did not interfere when they wanted to discuss their issues with Ms. Menon, Ms. Arun said. The teachers were overwhelmed by the students’ interest and questions, she said. The students continue to keep in touch with Ms. Menon.

ParentCircle, a Chennai-based organisation, has been advocating gadget-free family time. Nalina Ramalakshmi, its managing director, pointed out that it is inevitable now that students must be online, either for classes or to gain knowledge.

“Parents don’t really have a choice as the school wants them to take online classes. One of the key things is to have a conversation with the child and talk to them about why it is important to focus on the class. Talk about the positives and tell them the benefits. As a parent you need to trust your child, having open conversation on the various use with digital world. Come to a consensus and make the students feel they are working together to solve an issue. I don’t think parents should be hovering over their child during classes. On the school side, the teachers must monitor if the students are paying attention, by asking random questions and make sure the child is listening in,” she said.

Other experts have recommended that schools conduct smaller online classes, wherever possible, in order that the teacher might be able to monitor better.

She said there are parent controls on the internet but that too the parents should discuss with the children and be open with them.

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Printable version | Aug 7, 2020 3:14:21 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/safety-concerns-abound-as-online-classes-for-children-become-a-reality/article31871840.ece

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