Due to the closure of schools during the Covid-19 outbreak, students had to rely entirely on online instruction to guarantee that their formal education was not affected. Simultaneously, youngsters started spending more and more time online for socialisation and amusement as a result of being at home for extended periods of time. As a result, youngsters are increasingly vulnerable to online bullying and abuse.
A 14-year-old girl from a DPS school recently expressed her horror of having her school email hacked in a digital classroom in a workshop organised by the Centre for Social Research (CSR; an NGO in New Delhi). During their online classes, the hacker distributed confidential photographs to the entire school. Another 13-year-old girl was inspired by her example to share her story about strangers sending her personal messages on Instagram, asking for her contact information and other personal information.
These aren’t one-off incidents. According to media sources, the National Commission for Women (NCW) wrote to Karnataka’s Director General of Police in April 2020 after someone broke into a university’s online class and began acting improperly on the screen. Hackers and predators have used internet channels to spread insulting material and comments, according to various complaints from kids, teachers, and parents in India.
The issue isn’t confined to online classes. Scammers have attempted to manipulate youngsters through online gaming platforms since children also spend their leisure time in front of screens. While playing a multi-player online game, a 15-year-old boy from Hyderabad described his encounter with a scammer. On the platform, the scammer texted him and began sending him unsolicited personal and financial messages and links. The boy became so terrified that he stopped playing games completely. There have also been other reports of youngsters being bullied and conned, such as the story of a 13-year-old Madhya Pradesh kid who killed himself after losing Rs 40,000 in an online game.
Leaving digital devices in the hands of youngsters without sufficient monitoring and dialogue has become even more dangerous in the post-pandemic era. Several incidents of cyber threats have occurred in India, in which children have felt frightened because their safety and privacy have been violated. Harassment and non-consensual sharing of objectionable media content are more common among female students. Overall, documented incidences of cyberbullying have increased within this time period: cyberbullying cases against women and children in India increased by 42% in 2021 alone. In a survey of 630 teenagers conducted by Child Rights and You (CRY) in Delhi, 9.2 percent of those polled said they had been bullied online, with half of them not reporting it to their parents, teachers, or social media platforms. Psychological factors like as self-preservation and self-defence actions have also been suggested (by Verywell) as probable causes for the spike in cyberbullying and online toxicity that occurred during the epidemic.
In the current environment, children are confused and bewildered, resulting in mood swings, worry, and irritation in many of them. Adolescence is a time when people try to figure out who they are, but the pandemic has made it more difficult for them because they now have to make sense of themselves and the environment in a world where they have limited socio-physical relationships. These circumstances, taken together, have had a negative impact on their mental health as well as their physical health. Since the onset of the COVID-19 epidemic, ‘at least one in seven children — or 332 million globally — has lived under mandated or recommended nationwide stay-at-home rules for at least nine months, putting their mental health and well-being at risk,’ according to UNICEF.
Children suffer scholastic loss as a result of online bullying and trolling, according to Sarita Jadav, the head of UNESCO in India, who spoke at a webinar in March 2021, said ‘Internet has increased the possibility of cyber-bullying and online prejudice,’ she added. According to one survey, 62% of digital users don’t know where to go for support if they’re being cyberbullied.‘ This makes it critical to speak with children about digital devices outside of the academic curriculum, particularly during this Covid-19 time. Educational institutions may not be able to handle such discussions about digital safety and cyber security habits on their own; as a result, it is critical for them to collaborate with research organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to share and impart best practises for this critical topic.
Recognizing children’s increased vulnerabilities in today’s world, NGOs and Education Institutions should organise seminars on themes such as good online participation, online threats and counter-speech, the importance of consent, children’s mental health, fake news and misinformation, and more. In the last year alone, NGOs have trained over 30,000 school kids aged 12 to 18. The initiative is developed with input from students, educators, and parents, taking into account the current issues of online learning and education.
However, ensuring a secure learning environment for children necessitates the involvement of all parties.
- Teachers must learn to relearn traditional methodology and techniques in order to address this requirement. If this is the new normal, it must become a re-learning point for more innovative digital teaching approaches in order to assure students’ holistic development, digital safety, and well-being, and to help them become better digital citizens. The Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) paradigm can help teachers become allies for their students rather than just traditional instructors.
- Mental health is a critical component of all of the issues and vulnerabilities that young people experience, and it’s past time that we gave it the attention it deserves. Rather than avoiding emotional talks, we should seek to provide safe spaces for children where they can openly express their feelings and discuss how the epidemic, as well as the move to online learning, has impacted their mental health.
- Educational institutions should offer internet safety and threat-awareness training programmes for students, teachers, and parents.
- School curriculum should be updated to reflect contemporary events, including standards for online safety and security.
- Governments should set aside money for mental health specialists and the implementation of SEL tools in the education budget. They should also thoroughly review cyber-security laws and regulations, as well as establish helplines and portals to make reporting cyber-crime more convenient.
Because childhood experiences are the most important foundation of our personality, as well as our mental and emotional resilience, efforts must be made to mitigate the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on children’s security and happiness in the ‘new normal.’