Leading internet and telecoms firms have teamed up with the European Commission in the fight against cyber-bullying by launching a new website showing teachers how to spot inappropriate use of the Internet and mobile phones by children.
Child pornography and sexual grooming on the Internet and mobile phones is becoming an issue of growing concern.
More than two out of three European children aged between 10 and 11 have regular access to the Internet, according to the Commission, with the proportion rising to 85% for 12 and 13-year-olds. Over half have a mobile phone and nearly 20% admit to having been bullied via these new technologies. Almost all admit to having been exposed to pornographic images on the Internet.
In an effort to curb this trend and avoid potentially harmful regulation, leading Internet and Telecoms companies launched a new website yesterday (23 April), www.teachtoday.eu. The website is mainly addressed to teachers and aims to increase their awareness of online dangers as well as make the best use of new technologies for educational purposes.
“It is the first generation ever in which young students know more than teachers,” explained EU Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, recognising the “embarrassing” situations experienced by educators who can sometimes struggle with new technologies.
At the same time, she said teachers should be incited to use computers in the best way as Internet connections are now available in nearly all schools in Europe, according to the latest figures published by the Commission.
Teachtoday.eu has been promoted by a wide alliance of companies including Telecom Italia, Google, Telefonica, Microsoft, Vodafone and MySpace. The website is meant to be an easy tool to explain new features of Web 2.0, like blogs or wikis, and aims to raise awareness of some of the most worrying aspects of the new technologies, like privacy abuse or cyber-bullying.
The European Commission welcomed this effort from the industry and recalled a set of new initiatives it currently has in the pipeline. This year, the second edition of the EU Safer Internet Programme should be adopted. The new set of projects will have a budget of €55 million and will run between 2009 and 2013.
Commenting on the new initiative, Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding said: "Our children know more than us about new technologies but they do not know how to avoid risks. They have less control over information they share electronically than in real life. The pictures they upload in a social networking website is nice today but can be less interesting ten years later if related to a job application. We have to empower them to properly use the new media."
"New technologies bring huge benefits to children and young people, but issues such as online safety, cyber-bullying, and privacy are of major concern," added Marc Durando, executive director of European Schoolnet, a consortium of 28 education ministries in Europe. "Teachers are telling us they want to have the know-how to deal with these issues in the classroom, and TeachToday will help them to make sense of technology," he added.
Simon Hampton, director of European Public Policy and Government Relations at Google, said: "We are deeply committed to protecting children on the Internet and providing all of our users with a safe experience online. We are proud today to be participating in the launch of the TeachToday website, which supplies teachers with the tools they need to promote safe Internet usage."
Microsoft Europe Chairman Jan Muehlfeit commented: "Microsoft continues to support public private partnerships such as TeachToday as models to follow across Europe, as they allow many different stakeholders to come together and work on issues of great societal importance."
Speaking on behalf of MySpace, Michael Angus, general counsel at Fox Interactive Media, said: "Teachers are uniquely positioned to educate our teens about online safety. As responsible corporate citizens, we must work together to provide teachers with the tools to do so effectively. MySpace is proud to be a founding member of this partnership to bring online safety into our schools."
Vittorio Colao, chief executive officer at Vodafone Europe, said: "We are currently in the middle of a communications revolution. Although there are many benefits of using this technology, a generational digital divide has evolved. Vodafone believes it is critical that industry plays its part in bridging this divide which is why we support teachtoday.com."
The European Commission started funding initiatives at national level to make the Internet safer for children as early as 1999. In 2005, the €45 million Safer Internet Plus Programme was launched with the objective of fighting illegal and harmful content disseminated via the Web and through mobile handsets.
To protect children against dangerous use of mobile phones, the Commission carried out a public consultation in 2006 to assess the need for EU legislation to prevent abuse. This led the industry to voluntarily agree upon a set of principles in February 2007, to be applied in 2008 (EurActiv 27/03/07).
The TechToday website is an outcome of that agreement.
- 2009: New Safer Internet Programme 2009-2013 begins.
- European Commission:Factsheets on Safer Internet initiatives(March 2008)
- European Commission:Proposal for 2009-2013 Safer Internet Programme(27 Feb. 2008)
- European Commission:Public consultation on children and mobiles(Oct. 2006)
- European Commission:Industry agreement on a set of principles on children and mobiles(6 Feb. 2007)
- European Commission:Latest figures on Internet connections in EU schools(17 April 2008) [FR] [FR] [DE]
Business & Industry
- TeachToday:Official website(From 23 April 2008)