The (ISC)2 Foundation has launched its Safe and Secure Online programme in Ireland to coincide with Safer Internet Day 2014.

The new programme, which is free, is designed to help students, teachers, parents and governors to use the internet in a more secure manner.

Volunteers, who are all (ISC)2-certified information security experts, will make themselves available to visit educational establishments across the country in order to talk about the topics that most affect school-age children today, including cyberbullying, sexting and online grooming by predators.

The initiative will be driven primarily by members of the (ISC)2 Ireland Chapter which currently includes 20 volunteers. Those good fellows have already been involved in a pilot programme over the course of the last year which has reached over 1,000 kids.

Kate Gallagher, principal of Scoil Bhride Athgarvan, The Curragh, witnessed an (ISC)2 volunteer speaking to some of her students last week. Afterwards she said,

“As a parent and a principal of a school, I know that we may think we understand what is going on, but we are not really aware of what our young children are doing on the Internet.  I see they are going online, they are on Facebook and other sites, and I would say at least 60 % of our junior infant students received an iPad for Christmas. By the time they are 10 or 11 years old, they are forming their habits and their online behaviour becomes a part of their culture. We therefore have a moral and educational responsibility to teach them how to behave properly and be safe while online.”

Lead Ireland Safe and Secure Online volunteer Enda McGahern made the point that far too many children are accessing the web with little to no guidance from parents and teachers who themselves were unaware of the risks. Explaining why she volunteered for the program, McGahern said,

“I volunteered for the Safe and Secure Online programme because I believe that by giving up a little of my free time, I could make a difference in helping children protect themselves by sharing my knowledge and skills.”

The Safe and Secure Online programme, a global initiative, uses videos and activities to get the message across by demonstrating the risks associated with various online habits and actions.

Some of the areas in which the school children are given advice include topics such as:

  • avoiding identity theft
  • who to ask for help when they sense a problem
  • managing their passwords
  • safely downloading files
  • how to interact safely with others online

The programme also utilises surveys to assess to gain insight into how the children are currently interacting with the web, as well as to aid improvements to the material on offer. Some of this data has revealed some startling statistics, such as the fact that almost 1-in-5 kids had met someone they had only previously spoken with online. In half of those cases the child met their online acquaintance without taking anyone else with them.

Julie Peeler, the director of the (ISC)2 Foundation, a charitable trust founded by (ISC)2, highlighted the importance of the organisation’s Safe and Secure Online initiative when she said,

“This has become such an important issue for schools worldwide who embrace responsibility for ensuring the safety and ethical behaviour of their students. It’s essential that we make the effort to educate children early, and that we help adults understand how to keep everyone safe in our now very connected lives. Further, as children progress into the workforce, they will need a healthy respect for, and awareness of, the pitfalls that abound online.”

Safe and Secure Online was founded in 2006 and operates around the globe in countries as far afield as Canada, Switzerland, the UK, Hong Kong and the US. There are currently over 1,200 volunteers giving up their time to help our kids and I believe they should all be applauded for doing so.

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