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Jun 27, 2017

A school manual to fight cyberbullying

With an estimated one in three of all internet users in the world today being below the age of eighteen, children and young people are facing increased safety risks when going online. Cyber bullying is crime that targets young persons who are subjected to torment, harassment, humiliation, embarrassment, and threats. Cyber bullying is carried out by way of electronic technology, as well as communication tools such as social media sites, text messages, chat and websites. It is a growing phenomenon so that the Ministry of Education is now moving to develop a manual to prevent the crime within schools. The manual is going through its final stages of revision at a two-day workshop in Belize City. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Cyberbullying – it is a form of bullying that takes place through technology like computers and mobile devices. It is usually harder to detect than traditional bullying and often times the bully isn’t immediately visible and may not even be known to the victim. The increasing use of digital and online platforms by students has increased the likelihood of exposure to cyberbullying within schools. While the data for cyberbullying cases in Belize is not readily available, officials from the Ministry of Education say there is enough to recognize that it is growing problem, despite not being prevalent as it is in other countries like the U.S.A:

 

Brenda Armstrong, Supervisor of Secondary Schools Support Unit, MOE

Brenda Armstrong

“Unfortunately, we do not have the cumulative data for the country; in fact there are many situations where cases may arise that do not come for the attention for the Ministry of Education.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“Anecdotally, from what you have seen, how much of a problem is cyberbullying within the school system?”

 

Brenda Armstrong

“I would venture to say that responsible use of internet and digital devices is a major concern; our teenagers and adults have not yet fully embraced the reality that what you put in digital form and make available becomes the property of everyone, and that is, therefore, a major concern for us. Even without the documentation or the statistics on the reported cases, we do know that the problem is critical.”

 

So, to protect children from these attacks via cyber spaces, since last year Belize started working on a cyberbullying manual to be used by schools. It is part of a wider Caribbean initiative to put a stop to online harassment of students and by students – and today it is being reviewed by principals, school IT personnel and counselors from across the country. Working with regional consultants, participants are making changes to tailor the plan to Belize. The cyberbullying manual outlines key areas from institutional guidelines to protocols that are to be adhered to in order to prevent cyberbullying.

 

Brenda Armstrong

“For instance, it should not be possible for anyone to upload digital material without school permission; access to school internet must be properly safeguarded and so the manual outlines those kinds of technical support that a high school would have to comply with. In addition, there is guidance for parents because a lot of the responsibility for monitoring access to the internet has to be done through home intervention.”

 

Cyberbullying is a global trend, and it takes many forms, including the  abuse of a  personal information, photos and videos; harassment; cyber-stalking; and, unwanted ‘sexting’. But across the Caribbean there is limited or no legislative protection from these forms of online attacks, so The International Telecommunication Union which provides telecomm services, recognizes that cyber security is critical to responsible use of cyber spaces; they now work with the Caribbean member states, including Belize, to develop policies to help protect individuals, especially young persons, who use the internet.

 

Sylvester Cadet

Sylvester Cadet, Programme Officer, Int’l Telecomm. Union

“The first one deals with children in particular, another deals with guidelines for parents, guardians and educators, there is one which deals with industry players and by industry players we are referring to the telecommunications operators and service providers and internet service providers. The reason for this is because these providers also need to play a very critical role in ensuring a certain level of security on their networks, as well as ensuring that there is constant dialogue in dealing with issues relatedto cyber-crime and cyber bullying in particular, in this case; so, what is the kind of interface between the schools law enforcement, the operator service providers and the policy makers and in fact there is also one policy guideline for policy makers. The essence of the legislation is not merely to catch perpetrators and punish, but to create the framework for redress by the victim, as well as to define the framework for the rehabilitation, if you like, or for the assistance, therapeutic assistance or otherwise, to the perpetrators themselves because they too may be in need of assistance; especially if the perpetrator happen to be another young person, so the legislation needs to be well defined and we are hoping that in this discussion, there would be engendered in the minds of key policy makers, at the education level, at the jurisprudence level, at all national for a to see the critical importance of child online protection; for indeed you would essentially be saving the future of Belize.”

 

But with or without cyber-bullying laws, the ITU says there are actions parents and schools can undertake within their own spaces to better protect against cyber-bullying or to prevent it from happening.

 

Sylvester Cadet

“Ensuring that children are exposed to the right kind of material, and therefore, parents and guardians, even at the home level, ought to be playing a very critical role in how their children are culture, in how their children are brought up to understand the use of the internet. That is constant supervision at an early age, constant guidance. A student who may be online, and being addressed by someone whom they don’t know to give out certain kinds of information about where they live, about their person, about sharing photographs, there are some of the things that parents can undertake. From a school’s stand point, it is necessary that you have what is often referred to as acceptable use policy, so although technology is becoming more pervasive at schools and banning such technology might not necessarily be the right way to go but there must be what is referred  to as acceptable use policies that can guide students.”

 

Andrea Polanco reporting for News Five.

 

The workshop continues on Wednesday. The final document will be officially launched regionally at a later date.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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