How Safe Are Students Online?

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International think-tank, the DQ Institute, launched the world’s first real-time Child Online Safety Index on Safer Internet Day 2021, after surveying 145,426 children and adolescents in 30 countries over the last three years.

The US is ranked first for social infrastructure in the DQ Institute’s 30-country Child Online Safety Index (COSI). The ranking is based on government policies and industry practices to protect children online. The US is followed by the UK and Australia, while Nepal is ranked last.

Social infrastructure is one of six measures – including education and exposure to cyber risks such as cyberbullying – that make up the COSI. Overall, the US ranks 12th out of 30 countries surveyed for child online safety, lower than any other Western country surveyed, apart from the UK. By contrast, Spain ranks first, followed by Australia. Thailand is ranked last.

Based on a survey of 145,426 children and adolescents in 30 countries over the last three years, the COSI is the world’s first real-time measure to help nations understand their children’s online safety status. The COSI was announced by the DQ Institute as part of the #DQEveryChild global movement in collaboration with over 100 organisations – including Singtel, AIS, Optus, TURKCELL, Twitter, World Economic Forum, and JA Worldwide. It is linked with DQ World assessment tools and its global database, and will be automatically updated as countries progress with their child online safety and digital citizenship initiatives. This will help countries to more effectively coordinate various efforts to enhance child online safety and digital citizenship, thus enabling the measurement of global progress on this front.

The US ranks 10th from bottom on Cyber Risks, including cyberbullying, risky content, and risky contact with strangers. Japan is ranked first by this measure, and Thailand last.

Almost six in 10 (59 percent) American children aged 8–12 are exposed to at least one form of cyber risk, including 45 percent who have experienced cyberbullying, 34 percent who have been exposed to violent content, and 14 percent who are at risk of gaming disorder. Meanwhile, 32 percent of 13–19-year-olds have experienced unwelcome sexual contact.

Compounding this exposure to online risks is the fact that the US is also ranked 10th from bottom when it comes to Guidance and Education, assessing protective support, and direction from parents and schools. Here, Egypt comes first and Indonesia last.

The US ranks 18th in terms of Disciplined Digital Use, taking into account excessive screen time, high social media and gaming use, and mobile phone ownership among children. Japan ranked highest, and the Dominican Republic ranked lowest.

On average, 8–19-year-olds in America are spending over a day and a half (37 hours) per week looking at screens – including computers, mobile phones and televisions – which is considerably longer than Japan, where children spend just over 24 hours a week looking at screens.

The survey also ranked the US 16th in terms of Digital Competency – children’s ability to use technology safely and responsibly. It is far behind first ranked India, but above lowest ranked Thailand.

The US came 12th on Connectivity, measuring children’s meaningful access to the Internet. Singapore ranked highest, and Nepal lowest.

 

Global findings

 

The report’s most damning finding is that almost two-thirds (60 percent) of online children aged 8–12 across the world’s surveyed countries are exposed to one or more forms of cyber risk, adding up to a ‘cyber pandemic’.

Constituting these risks:

  • 45% of online children across the surveyed countries are affected by cyberbullying
  • 39% experience reputational risks
  • 29% are exposed to violent and sexual content
  • 28% experience cyber threats
  • 17% experience risky contact such as offline meetings with strangers or sexual contact
  • 13% are at risk for a gaming disorder
  • 7% are at risk for social media disorder.

In general, the COSI found that Western and East Asian countries tended to rank higher for child online safety, with South and Southeast Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and African countries tending to rank lower.

East Asian countries tended to rank better than countries in other regions on Cyber Risks, Disciplined Digital Use, Digital Competency and Connectivity. Western countries tended to outperform countries in other regions on Social Infrastructure and Guidance and Education.

Dr Yuhyun Park, Founder of the DQ Institute, said:

“That the US ranks higher than any other country when it comes to government policies and industry practices to protect children online will come as welcome news to American parents.

“But no nation, no matter where they are ranked, has cause for complacency. What we are witnessing is a global cyber-pandemic with high exposure to multiple forms of online risks threatening children across all the countries we surveyed.

“Everyone in society has a role to play in turning this around. Businesses, from social media and telecommunications, to hardware and gaming companies, should make child online safety a core business principle. Companies should also partner with schools to help tackle cyberbullying. And governments must back stronger digital education. Most importantly, parents must be aware that they can make changes and reduce online harm. Helping children discipline their digital use from an early age is a necessary starting point for mitigating cyber risks. Primary schools also must teach students digital citizenship as part of their standard curriculum.

“Through the index, the US and other countries will be able to identify areas of improvement through global benchmarking, and then better focus on deploying initiatives for their children’s online safety.”

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Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.
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