Parents urged to safeguard children from harmful online material

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THE United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and local teachers’ unions have urged parents and guardians to safeguard schoolchildren from watching harmful online material.

By NQOBANI NDLOVU

This came as many learners were now turning to the internet to catch up on missed lessons owing to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The government ordered the early closure of schools to fight coronavirus, joining several other countries that have done the same, and generally — for the first time — forcing many to embrace digital learning.
According to Unesco, over 1,2 billion learners across the globe have stopped learning owing to the COVID-19-induced school closures.

The lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners might lead to heightened risk-taking such as sending sexualised images, while increased and unstructured time online might expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as greater risk of cyberbullying, Unesco warned.
“Under the shadow of COVID-19, the lives of millions of children have temporarily shrunk to just their homes and their screens. We must help them navigate this new reality,” Unicef executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement.

“We call on governments and industry to join forces to keep children and young people safe online through enhanced safety features and new tools to help parents and educators teach their children how to use the internet safely.”
In Zimbabwe, while virtual learning presents the best opportunity for learners to catch up, the high cost of data, poor network connectivity in the rural areas and poverty mean a considerable number have no access to learning material during the lockdown.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe also raised the same concern on the harmful effects of virtual learning where there is no adult supervision.

“ICT comes with its own challenges and negative things. Parents and guardians must be forewarned that these initiatives can destroy our young people if not properly monitored. A lot of explicit and illicit content also gets pushed to our kids during such times,” Majongwe said, adding that schoolchildren also risked being imitated into online cultism.

“We must be on guard making sure the platforms our kids are on are truly safe and serve the purpose they purport to serve. Pornography homophobia, hate, satanism, initiations into cults and other rituals are also rampant to kids on such platforms as many behind these agendas know about the vulnerability and gullibility of children.”