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Internet access is transformative. It opens up opportunities — to learn, to grow and to connect. However, the same technology that brings opportunity can also expose children and young people to new risks and harm. In 2020, with countries enacting lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19, these issues have become more pressing as children shift to virtual classrooms and spend more time online.
A survey commissioned by Telenor’s mobile operator in Thailand, dtac, found that 91% of children who responded had experienced online bullying, while a recent UNICEF study recorded an increase in cyberbullying in Malaysia despite higher awareness of the issue and more activities in place to combat this.
“With the current movement restriction, my daughter spends more than half the day doing her classes online, in addition to using the internet during her spare time. When I am working, it is difficult to supervise her online activities, so it is important for me to ensure that she is equipped with the right knowledge to differentiate between good and bad. I would also like for her to be digitally resilient, knowing how to behave and having the ability to make the right decisions when she is online,” says Azlyn Abdul Rahman, a working mother of a 8-year-old from Malaysia who has been attending online school since early this year.
Philip Ling, Head of Sustainability at Digi Telecommunications and a pioneer of child online safety in Malaysia, concurs, “It is a growing concern among our stakeholders. With more children coming online every day, there is a need to continue building digital resilience and skills.”
2019: Philip speaking at a school outreach event in Malaysia
Joining forces to protect children online
As a pioneer and early champion of child online safety, Telenor Group, together with its global partners UNICEF and PLAN International as well as local organisations, has trained nearly 4 million children across its five markets in Asia in navigating the online world safely. In this time, child online safety conversations have evolved from in-person educational sessions to gamified learning and integration into national curriculums.
One of the key initiatives, DigiWorld, has recently been expanded to include locally adapted versions in Bangladesh and Myanmar. An interactive online learning resource developed in partnership with ParentZone, DigiWorld helps children aged between 5 and 16, their families and schools, build the knowledge, skills and digital resilience. The curriculum is now available in all of Telenor’s Asia markets, adapted to local market realities and in local language. DigiWorld is recognised by the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as a best practice example of how to work in partnership to deliver effective child online safety programmes.
Empowering the young to take a stand
During the pandemic, Telenor’s operator in Thailand, dtac also pivoted and moved its Young Safe Internet Leader camp online, employing courses and design thinking workshops to equip young people with digital skills such as chatbot design, data visualisation and storytelling to make their lives online enriching in a safe way. Moving online did not prove to be a deterrent for this highly engaged group of young digital natives as they took to designing innovative solutions and projects to combat cyberbullying among their peers.
“Growing up with technology means we get greater opportunities and convenience in getting information. At the same time, it means we are heavily exposed to online risks like cyberbullying, fake news and violent content. Digital resilience is now a critical skill for all young people,” said 18-year-old Saharath Suwannawong from Thailand.
An inclusive and safer internet for all
Echoing the sentiments of the young, Rasna Hasan, Deputy Director of Special Projects at Grameenphone, said, “Child online safety has never been more important as it is now, given COVID-19 and a large youth population in Bangladesh. In the past two years, we have trained more than 1 million children, but this is a mere drop in the ocean. More needs to be done. We need to continue bringing more people into the dialogue, regardless of gender and economic background, or (access to) connectivity.”
2018: Rasna speaking to students in Bangladesh as part of “Be Smart Use Heart” programme, designed to equip school-going children with knowledge on tackling cyberbullying