Navigating an Online World, Together

GEMS Education has always focused on the well-being, safety and welfare of its students and staff. Sara Hedger, Head of Child Safeguarding and Child Protection for the group, discusses the complexities of online behaviour and provides tips on hot to role model and guide children to be safe in a virtual world

The current global pandemic continues to dominate world headlines with what seems a continuous stream of media opinion, graphs, negative messaging and posturing among many world leaders; it can seem overwhelming. Add to this the current restrictions globally to help stop the spread of COVID-19 and worries about social isolation, loneliness, excessive screen time, online safety, finances, the economy and poor mental health are starting to become more prevalent in adults and children.

When asked to create a system for remote learning that would ensure relevant, high quality, fun learning for all students, GEMS Education teachers and leaders rose to the challenge. Feedback from children and parents has been overwhelmingly positive.

The internet is a great tool for allowing children to explore, learn, play and communicate, but there are risks as well, for which parents feel unprepared at times. When things go wrong, it is easy to blame the technology instead of looking at the causes of the issue and fixing the behaviour.

The good news is that GEMS has always had safeguarding at the centre of everything we do. We have a dedicated team centrally and trained staff in every school in the group who are responsible for ensuring our students are protected from abuse and harm. This includes knowing how to behave safely online. We also have a very experienced central IT team who work with technicians in schools to keep our systems performing optimally and safely.

GEMS has always valued the well-being, safety and welfare of its students and staff as much as academics. The move to remote working has rightly caused everyone, globally, to examine not just what they teach, but how they teach it safely.

Principles for safe behaviour online

Talk to your child. Research shows that children whose parents have open discussions with their child about what they do online are more likely to tell and seek help from them or another safe adult. If you are unsure about how to open a conversation with your child, seek advice from your teacher or school counsellor.

Remind everyone (adults included) that online and offline human behaviour should be the same. If you wouldn’t say something to or share something in person, why would you think it is okay to do so online? Being kind looks the same offline as it does online.

Check the safety settings on all devices regularly and talk to your child about what to do if they experience something they are uncomfortable with online.

In the last couple of weeks, as social distancing and self-isolation continues, I have begun to notice a change, with more articles and information in social media focusing on community building, selfless acts, kindness and helping others. There are numerous examples of GEMS students demonstrating our GEMS Jewels of Kindness and Respect values.

I truly believe that we are all in this together and never has there been a more important time to take a breath and explore what is really important to us. Role model to our children the appreciation of others, including friends and family, and help them understand how even the smallest kindness can make a big impact.