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As our lives become increasingly digital, educating young people about internet safety is vital

Young people are growing up with a wealth of technology and information at their fingertips. This information would have been unthinkable 20, or even 10, years ago. These advancements have provided many benefits, and today’s younger generation can access all the educational content, e-books, and access to video calls that they could ever desire, in a matter of seconds. However, this accessibility comes with a significant threat. Young people are exposed to the darker side of the internet, including disinformation, explicit content, and the ever-present threat of cyberbullying.

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Over half of 12-15-year-olds have had a negative online experience, and on average, children and young people now spend more time on the internet each week than they do in school, spending around 35 hours online – almost mirroring the length of hours required in a full-time job. The time children and young people have been spending online has been increasing over the last decade, and it is likely it will keep rising. Therefore, it is more important than ever that they are armed with knowledge about how to stay safe online. 

EVERFI from Blackbaud, a digital education innovator, is on a mission to help teachers tackle these complex issues with Ignition, a completely free and interactive course for secondary school students. Ignition is mapped to the national curriculum and teaches students how to navigate the digital world safely and confidently, as well as how to evaluate the accuracy and perspectives of online content.

Despite the wealth of information now available on the internet, not everything online is reliable. Ofcom found that three in 10 8-15-year-olds think that if a website is listed by a search engine, it can be trusted, and only 11 per cent of young people could identify a genuine social media post. Statistics like this are worrying and demonstrate why courses like Ignition are so important. It is not enough to just warn children and young people about the unsuitable content they might find online.

Ignition is aimed at 11-14-year-olds, which is an ideal time to ensure young people form healthy and safe online habits. The detrimental effects of high levels of social media use are especially pronounced at ages 14-15 for boys, and 11-13 for girls. 11-14 is also the age at which cyberbullying peaks and, regrettably, England has the highest level of cyberbullying in secondary schools compared to other countries.

Matt Evans, a teacher from Shaftesbury High School, said: “I was looking for a resource that tackled the topic of digital well-being and online safety and came across Ignition. It’s ideal. It’s structured with lesson plans and explanations that are teacher-friendly and easy to use. Teaching our students about online safety is absolutely critical, as many of them are vulnerable.”

David Wright, UK Safer Internet Centre director and South West Grid for Learning (SWGfL) CEO, said: “The online world has changed immensely over the last decade, and we must make sure to protect children online and create a better internet together. This year’s Safer Internet Day was all about listening to what young people want from a safer internet. This global celebration brought together thousands of organisations and schools to work towards making better online experiences for everyone.

“Supporting digital development and online safety in young people has rapidly become one of the most valuable forms of education in recent years. Research from ProjectEVOLVE has shown that there is a need to connect online safety issues to broader topics that young people can relate to within their own lives.”

The UK Safer Internet Centre is a leading global partnership of three charities (Childnet, Internet Watch Foundation and SWGfL), that aim to make the internet a great and safe place for everyone.

As time progresses, the use of technology will continue to play a large and increasing role in our lives – especially the way young people learn. And with mental health issues amongst children and young people at a record high, and the clear links between mental health, social media usage and cyberbullying, ensuring young people understand how to use the internet safely has never been so important. EVERFI’s Ignition course helps teachers tackle this challenging topic in a way which will keep their class engaged, while arming them with the knowledge they need to navigate the digital world and utilise its wide-ranging benefits safely. It is not only completely free to use, but also a time-saver for teachers; doing all the hard work for you with built-in assessments and comprehensive impact reports that show how much pupils have learnt and understood.

We shouldn’t expect the progress of technology to slow down. We should, however, be trying to keep up and educate young people of the importance of internet safety. 

If you’d like to learn more about how EVERFI’s free Ignition course can help your students, visit https://everfiteachers.co.uk/our-resources/ignition/, where you can also find a range of other amazing and completely free courses to upskill your class

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