The programme already has 20 volunteers who reached over 1,000 children through a pilot version of the programme last year.
Safe and Secure Online is a global initiative that was launched in 2006 in the UK and has grown to more than 1,200 volunteers in Canada, Hong Kong, Switzerland, the UK, the US and now Ireland.
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The programme is run by the (ISC)2 Foundation, a charitable trust founded by (ISC)2, a not-for-profit professional body of information and software security professionals.
Volunteers, who are all (ISC)²-certified information security experts, visit schools and host education sessions on how to use the internet safely and securely for parents, teachers and pupils.
The programmes cover the most serious cyber risks faced by young people, including cyberbullying, online grooming and sexting.
By the time they are 10 or 11 years old, children are forming their habits and their online behaviour becomes a part of their culture, said Kate Gallagher, principal of Scoil Bhride Athgarvan, The Curragh.
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“We therefore have a moral and educational responsibility to teach them how to behave properly and be safe while online,” she said.
Enda McGahern, lead Ireland Safe and Secure Online volunteer, said a growing number of children and young people are spending increasing amounts of their lives online, without the benefit of any guidance.
“I believe that by giving up a little of my free time, I can make a difference in helping children protect themselves by sharing my knowledge and skills,” he said.
Programme materials include hard-hitting videos and activities that demonstrate risks to personal safety resulting from dangerous online habits and actions.
Advice provided to children includes: how to avoid identity theft; where to go for help when problems arise; and how to recognise dangers with common practices such as geo-tagging, managing passwords, safely downloading music, avoiding malicious traps, and interacting with others online.
In addition to the presentations, in-school surveys conducted by volunteers provide dynamic insight into children’s online behavior and habits, while also ensuring materials are current.
This data has revealed that one-fifth of nine to 11 year olds have met with someone in the real world they have previously talked to only online, and half of these children did so without taking anyone with them.
Nearly 20% reported feeling personally uncomfortable or upset when chatting with an online contact they had never met in real life.
“This has become such an important issue for schools worldwide who embrace responsibility for ensuring the safety and ethical behaviour of their students,” said Julie Peeler, Director (ISC)2 Foundation.
“It is essential that we make the effort to educate children early, and that we help adults understand how to keep everyone safe in our now very connected lives,” she said.
All (ISC)² volunteers undergo training to cover the programme material and ensure they are aware of child safety concerns, what to do in case of disclosure, and how to communicate effectively with children.