By Murtland Haley
It has been noted that with the unlimited benefits offered by the internet, children are vulnerable to online bullying and other menacing consequences when used in a perverse manner by other persons.
This was acknowledged by Minister of Public Telecommunications, Catherine Hughes yesterday during a cybersecurity workshop for education stakeholders held at the North Ruimveldt Secondary School.
The theme for the workshop, which continues today, is: “The Role of Education in Cyber Security: Developing Digital Citizenship.”
According to Hughes, her Ministry is working assiduously towards universal access to the internet and the many citizens, who are already connected, have learnt a great deal in a short time. She said that students, especially, have become familiar with almost everything that is available online.
She said that it is known by many that the internet is a good tool and extremely progressive. “Students are seizing opportunities for higher education, signing up for online training courses, while others are able to research the wide range of exciting entrepreneurial opportunities.”
Despite these benefits, Hughes said that the negative effects must also be dealt with, such as unwholesome content being circulated and threats to the country’s security.
“With the easy availability of online data, it becomes easier for your information, your online accounts to be hijacked. You must have heard the stories about information at some huge North American and European conglomerate being stolen by hackers and placed in the public domain. Maybe you’ve heard or read about the countless incidents of identity theft; or of people with very bad intentions getting access to little children and luring them away from home. And I know you know that online bullying is common, even in Guyana.”
According to the Minister, Guyana is not alone, as different countries and a number of groups are developing ways to deal with this major concern in schools. She said that the workshop is about finding solutions to the challenges of protecting children at every level of the school system.
She said that adults have the responsibility to enlighten children about the possibilities lurking behind their cell phones and computer screens.
“We have to teach them to be cautious when talking to people they don’t know, and even with the people they think they know; and we have to teach them how to deal with online bullies.”
Meanwhile, Programme Officer of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Sylvester Cadette said that the United Nations’ specialised agency for Information Communication Technologies, has observed that certain barriers are diminishing rapidly as it relates to the affordability of ICT devices such as smart phones, computers and tablets.
According to Cadette, persons that use these devices must be well aware of the real and potential negatives lurking online. Some of these, he said, are the grooming for sexual purposes and cyber bullying. He said that previously, school children being bullied was done covertly, but has since become quite the opposite, and is being done overtly.
“Schools and their administrations across the (Caribbean) region are struggling to find solutions to combat the psychological and performance-related effects on victims of cyber bullying.”
Further, Chief Education Officer, Mr Marcel Hutson, said that his ministry with assistance from the ITU and the Public Telecommunications Ministry, is working to devise strategies to face down cyber bullying and to keep students safe from other types of online threats.
He said that his Ministry is driving to integrate ICT with schools’ curricula which results in better information sharing and much more interactive teaching and learning experiences. He said that about 102 secondary and tertiary education institutions, including the Cyril Potter College of Education and technical institutes, now have free access to the internet.
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