House of Lords report says, learning to survive in a world dominated by the internet should be as important for children as writing and reading. Lessons about online risks, responsibilities and acceptable behavior should be mandatory in all UK schools, the Lords Communications Committee argues. The Committee chairman Lord Best said the internet is highly beneficial but children need awareness of its hazards. Leaders of industry said education was key to keeping children safe online. The Lords report builds on findings by the Children’s Commissioner for England in January that the internet is not designed for children, disregard them being the biggest users by age group.
The Lords say, “Children inhabit the world in which every aspect of their lives is mediated through technology: education to health, from an environment to socializing”. “Yet the recognition that children have different needs to those of adults has not yet been fully accepted in the online world.”
“There is a lot of data which makes the internet harmful but it can also be hugely beneficial, a way for children to interact and find out about the world”, Lord Best added. However, they need to manage with online pornography, internet grooming, body image issues and sexting, he said, as well as building resilience to the addictive properties of internet games which are “designed and developed for keeping users online, missing out on sleep as they stay in their bedrooms glued to the screen”. Children also need to be aware of the dangers of covert advertising online and fake news, he added.
The report contended that “digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of a child’s education alongside writing, reading and mathematics and be taught and resourced accordingly”. It adds that it should form the core of a new curriculum for personal social health and economic education. It backs the government’s move to make relationships and sex education statutory in England but says PSHE should also be mandatory in all schools, with the subject included in inspections.
The report notes “a worrying rise in anxious and unhappy children emerging alongside the upward trend of childhood internet use” and calls for more robust research into a “possible causal relationship” alongside immediate action to prevent children being affected. In general, the report says the internet should “do more to promote children’s best interests” but found self-regulation by industry was “failing” and that commercial interests “very often” took priority. In the meantime, it adds, government responsibility is “fragmented” with little-co-ordinated policy and joined-up action.