Children to learn Internet dangers

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Primary school children are to be given lessons on how to use the Internet safely as part of the new personal, social and health education curriculum.

The lessons are one element of a new government strategy called "Click Clever, Click Safe", which will teach children how to implement an online version of the Green Cross Code when surfing the internet.

Young internet users will be taught to Zip it, Block it, Flag it, when encountering unsuitable internet material. The three techniques translate to not giving out personal information via the web, blocking unwanted messages sent through social networks and reporting inappropriate behaviour.

The measures have been drawn up by the UK Council on Child Internet Safety (UKCCS), a new body comprising 140 organisations.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "We must ensure that this virtual world is safe for our children just as we try to ensure that the real world is.

"The internet is a wonderful and powerful tool that is changing the way we learn and the way we stay in touch, but unfortunately there are risks from those intent on exploiting its benefits." He added: "We hope that 'Zip it, Block it, Flag it' will become as familiar to this generation as 'Stop, Look and Listen' was to the last."

Dr Tanya Byron, who headed a review into inappropriate material on the internet and in video games, said: "The digital code is the green cross code for the digital age. It's about the management of risk in the same way that we want children to understand and manage risk in the real world, in the offline world.

"18% of children have said they have come across inappropriate material," she added. "Its 18% too many but it's not as big as people believe based on the scare stories and fear-mongering."

Currently only secondary school pupils are taught about internet safety. Under the new proposals, online safety would be taught to all pupils from the age of five in England as part of their personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE), which includes drug awareness, bullying, sex education, healthy living and personal finance.

Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls MP said the new code will provide a handy tool for children and parents to give them the confidence to know how to protect themselves online.

Commenting on the Government's campaign, Christine Blower, General Secretary, of the National Union of Teachers said: "The intention of the Government's initiative on internet safety must be right. While the internet presents unparalleled opportunities for learning, its dangerous and malevolent potential is something which has to be confronted.

"It is internet service providers which have the prime responsibility for tackling exploitative and offensive material. While I welcome the fact that the major ISPs have signed up to the joint guidance on cyberbullying, I remain unconvinced that service providers are doing enough to filter offensive materials.

"Of course awareness should be fostered about the safe use of the internet. However, the inevitable question is how schools can cope with further curriculum requirements. We need therefore to ask ourselves whether it is schools that should take the responsibility for fire fighting measures, or whether such a responsibility should rest on the shoulders of ISPs for tackling the publication of offensive material at source."

The internet safety strategy has been drawn up by the UK Council for Child Internet Safety (UKCCIS), a group of 140 organisations including Government departments and industry leaders like Google and Nintendo, which was set up in the wake of Prof Byron’s report last year.

A study by the National Literacy Trust recently concluded that the use of blogs and social networking sites can help students develop a more positive outlook regarding their reading and writing skills.