Schools should teach ‘digital citizenship’ to all pupils aged four to 14 to help keep them safe online, the children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has said.
In a report from her Growing up Digital taskforce, Longfield warns that children are “left to learn about the internet on their own”, and that the time they spend online is increasing, and demands that schools play a bigger role.
The taskforce discovered that younger pupils did not read, for instance, the 17-page terms and conditions of the social network Instagram – used by 43 per cent of eight to 11-year-olds – which allows the company to share data on pupils, including where they go to school.
It is particularly important that we equip them with the full range of skills needed to navigate this social space
The report says digital citizenship lessons for pupils up to the age of 14, with a voluntary extension for older children who “want to become digital leaders or champions”, would show children “the way to get the best out of the internet”.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) said the report shows the need for statutory PSHE, which could encompass digital citizenship lessons.
The report read: “At a time when nearly half of 11 to 16-year-olds say it is easier to be themselves on the internet than with people face-to-face, it is particularly important that we equip them with the full range of skills needed to navigate this social space.”
According to the report, research has found that children are keen to discuss their online experiences, but prefer to do so with their peers.
Longfield said digital citizenship education would include what it means to be responsible online, how to protect your rights and how to respect those of others. It would also cover how to disengage and engage with the digital world.
She said the lessons should be built around an initiative called 5Rights, which establishes the rights of individuals to be able to remove information they have uploaded to the web, know how to access their data, know where to access support, understand they have the power to switch off and the purposes of technology being used.
Baroness Beeban Kidron, the founder of 5Rights and a member of Longfield’s Growing up Digital steering group said: “The children’s commissioner has made an important intervention on a subject that is a central concern of parents, carers, teachers and young people themselves.
“She has identified the lack of support in services that children routinely use, a yawning gap in their digital education and an unsustainable situation where the long established rights of children are not applied online.”
Longfield has also called for her powers to be extended so she can oversee complaints to social media sites by young people.
“Children spend half their leisure time online. The internet is an incredible force for good but it is wholly irresponsible to let them roam in a world for which they are ill-prepared, which is subject to limited regulation and which is controlled by a small number of powerful organisations.”
Russell Hobby, the general secretary of the NAHT, said statutory PSHE would provide “curriculum space” for the discussion of important issues, including relationships and sexuality, as well as digital citizenship.
“It is only by tackling these sometimes difficult subjects that we can imbue children with the resilience and understanding that will prepare them for life in a digital world. The government must back teachers by making PSHE a statutory part of the curriculum.”
It follows confirmation by the government that it is considering its position on compulsory PSHE as it attempts to get the children and social work bill passed.