More than 290 million students across the globe have been disrupted by school closures in reaction to the spread of COVID-19, prompting, “a vast unplanned experiment in home schooling”, in the words of one expert commentator.
Is your school closing due to COVID-19?
China was the first nation to mandate closures, but today at least 22 countries in three different continents have followed suit. In the US alone more than 36 million students have now been ordered home.
What are the duty of care obligations for schools delivering instruction to students at home?
The National Principles for Child Safe Organisations attempt to codify school obligations. Principle 8 makes clear that, “Risks associated with [Technological] platforms [be] minimised through all necessary means, including: education of children and young people, parents, staff and volunteers about expectations of online behaviour; the application of safety filters; and communication protocols."
According to leading cyber safety experts, ySafe Solutions:
“A student teacher relationship exists during remote learning and so reasonable steps must be taken to provide safe online learning environments. This includes identifying and mitigating risks associated with online learning such as access to inappropriate material and the potential for bullying.
Furthermore if a school is made aware of an online incident involving students, then they have a clear obligation to act.”
Can schools rely on parents and parental controls? Clearly not, as research shows that the vast majority of families Down Under use no parental controls at all on children’s devices.
So how can schools deliver on their duty of care obligations with respect to technology when children are at home?
In the US, through regulation including the Children’s Online Protection Act, the majority of students are issued a learning device and that device is managed and filtered by the school. By contrast, Australian & New Zealand schools are predominantly BYO environments offering school IT no control over the device when it disconnects from the school network.
According to Tim Levy, Managing Director of Family Zone, “The US school system is massively better placed to deal with their duty of care obligations around home instruction than Australia or New Zealand. Today we have over 500,000 student devices in the US where schools have complete control over them; during and after school.”
So how exposed are our schools? Coronavirus is clearly a fast moving challenge and the implications and learnings of shut downs will evolve. Says Jordan Foster of ySafe Solutions, “We urge schools to complete a risk assessment and consider cyber safety options as a matter of urgency.”
In recent years schools have rapidly adopted online learning management tools to streamline class and homework and parent collaboration. And in the US in particular we’ve seen rapid uptake (estimated now at some 15%) of tools which provide teachers with complete internet control and visibility in the classroom.
And so a large portion of US schools are well placed to not only deliver duty of care, but to seamlessly ensure students attend, are on-task and that required resources are available with remote learning programs.
But in Australia and New Zealand, it is almost unheard of for teachers to be empowered to view and control learning devices at this level.
As a consequence, Taryn Wren of ySafe Solutions notes, “We’re seeing remarkably rudimentary plans for instruction as schools develop approaches to deal with shut downs”.
With the prospect of prolonged school closures, Family Zone has developed a range of measures to support schools to implement safe and effective remote learning.
These include providing the following tools and resources to schools for free until the end of Term 2:
To find out more about this gesture to schools, please click here.
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