By Stella James, founder of Gooseberry Planet, a unique software platform and app that teachers children about online dangers through gamification…
As teachers and parents, we often think we’re savvy when it comes to recognising the dangers found online, including meeting strangers, online bullying, grooming and sexual exploitation. However, do we truly understand how social media works and the online safety issues that run alongside it? And, more importantly, how often is this essential topic discussed with children, or even recognised as a priority?
Take bullying, for example. It’s emotionally and mentally devastating, and since the proliferation of technology and social media, the ways in which bullying occurs has grown and evolved hugely; over the last three years alone, there has been an 87 per cent increase in the number of Childline’s counselling sessions for online bullying. With more than half of children using social media before the age of 10 – despite the age-restrictions such as those on Facebook outlining that users must be 13 years of age or older – teaching our young children about online safety needs to reflect 21st century dangers and it can’t be something that happens during a single hour-long PSHE class.
Yet, unfortunately, from my experience and from speaking with schools regularly, a large majority feel that doing an assembly once a year or having a police representative visit periodically is enough. However, a child cannot be taught to change their mindset and learn about online dangers during a one-off session; it takes far longer to teach and implement effective strategies and measure the effect of them.
Another issue schools face is that many teachers don’t feel fully informed on the topic and therefore don’t know how to teach it. However, statutory requirements in the Department for Education’s ‘Keeping Children Safe in Education’ document outlines that teachers must be trained in a variety of safeguarding issues and, as part of this, explicitly educate children about the dangers and how to deal with them appropriately.
I realised that there had to be a way for schools and parents to implement consistent discussions around online safety and, likewise, for this to be in a way that truly engages children and enables them to understand the dangers they will come across online. So, in 2015, I founded Gooseberry Planet, a unique software platform for 4-13 year olds that teaches children about various safety issues through gamification.
It’s important for children to engage with any type of learning, and this often happens when learning is made fun and interactive. With Gooseberry Planet, teachers can effectively teach children about safety issues using the software, app and accompanying resources. Children are tasked to complete levels and collect stars through different games, during which they face real-life scenarios such as grooming, radicalisation, meeting strangers and online bullying. The child learns through the consequences of their own reaction and, as part of the game, must answer and respond to questions about their understanding of the different safety issues. Children must also complete workbooks alongside each level to consolidate their learning.
With the software, teachers are able to monitor pupils’ progress, as it will show exactly how children are scoring, flagging up when a child isn’t responding in the correct manner and enabling the teacher to support the child in their learning. This information can also be accessed by parents too, providing an inclusive, comprehensive resource for all stakeholders in children’s education.
Being educated about online safety is, in fact, a life skill that’s needed in the 21st Century and involves not just children, but parents and teachers too, as they’re a vital part of the jigsaw puzzle when it comes to keeping children safe online. Schools need to be teaching their children about online safety in a way that really resonates with them and enables them to access important information for learning, which is where gamification can truly help the teaching of PSHE and online safety issues.
We know that the statistics for issues relating to online behaviours are on the rise. So, how many more children need to suffer before we start to truly take action and make online safety a priority?