Safe and secure: ensuring protection of children in the digital classroom

Feb. 15, 2023
Online education platforms, however, are putting measures in place to ensure safety — from mandatory cameras to background checks on teachers.

Many educational institutions were not prepared for a shift to e-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Microsoft Security Intelligence, the education industry accounted for 61% of the 7.7 million malware encounters experienced by enterprises in June 2020.

During the pandemic, online learning only increased in popularity — in 2021, 27% of E.U. citizens reported having taken an online course or using online learning material, which is a growth from 23% in 2020. This increased online presence has led to a corresponding rise in cyber threats aimed at students, including hacking, phishing, and online harassment.

Potential online risks in education

According to Akvilė Bartaševičiūtė, the founder of FRIENDOLAND — an intercontinental non-formal e-school with classes for children aged 6-17 — it is the responsibility of parents and online platforms to protect pupils from online dangers.

“Children can be exposed to various risks during online classes. For example, no background checks on teachers can lead to dangerous content being shared during lessons, while inadequate security measures may result in unidentified people joining the classes and asking children for their private information,” she warned.

Furthermore, a survey conducted by Boston Consulting Group revealed that only 40% of parents said that their kids had voiced concerns about dangerous content they had encountered. However, despite more than 80% of kids stating they would turn to their parents in such situations for assistance, there may be some obstacles preventing children from reporting cyber threats. This may include a lack of understanding of what an online threat is or even a fear of speaking out.

Cybersecurity measures in e-learning

Despite the proliferation of online dangers for children, there are multiple ways e-learning platforms can be better equipped to deal with them. For instance, it is important to ensure the teachers of such institutions have both a sterling reputation and knowledge about online threats.

“All of our teachers sign a contract that includes a section on confidentiality and data security, are interviewed on a video conferencing platform, and have recent criminal background checks completed. If recruited, we provide educators with a ZOOM account and a business email address, which are inherently secured. They are also required to always have cameras on during classes,” Bartaševičiūtė explained.

Additionally, there are certain steps that can be taken by the children themselves (or with the help of their parents) to be better secured against online risks. For example, to ensure that only registered students are let into class and that online schools are always aware of who is in front of the camera, students could make sure to turn on the camera at all times. Policies on parents notifying the e-learning platform in writing before the lesson if the camera is not functioning could also be implemented.

To further ensure vigilance against cybersecurity risks, parents should also talk to their children about potential harms online, check what they do on the internet, what pages they visit, and make sure they apply different security tools on their computers. Collaborating with online platforms on such topics could also prove to be mutually beneficial.

“On our platform, we organize free monthly events for the children and parents. During them, we talk about internet safety, ask experts to join us and teach kids about how to use different tools, why passwords are so important and what threats they may encounter,” Bartaševičiūtė noted.