Studies show that nearly four out of five Australian children aged 5 to 14 use the internet, and since the COVID-19 pandemic, recent surveys have found that screen time has increased by more than 500%.
In addition to teachers expressing the need for a dedicated curriculum to help keep kids safer online, eSafety research released earlier this year revealed three-quarters of Australian teens wanted online safety information delivered through trusted channels – principally through their school.
To help schools address these challenges, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner's Education and Training Team provides a free, accredited professional learning program, as well as the new eSafety Champions Network, which is growing rapidly.
eSafety Champions are teachers, wellbeing professionals or staff representatives who have direct access to eSafety's expert education and training to help to safeguard against online harms and promote positive online experiences.
“The eSafety Champions Network is an innovative extension of our existing engagement program across the education sector, which helps us reach almost a million students and teachers each year through virtual classrooms, webinars and other sessions led by eSafety and our Trusted eSafety Providers,” an eSafety spokesperson told The Educator.
“We launched the eSafety Champions Network for Safer Internet Day 2022, on 8 February, to help deepen school communities’ understanding of online safety and how to assist students.”
The spokesperson said building this network of teachers and wellbeing professionals, embedded within schools, is particularly important at a time when technology and the pandemic have turbo-charged some of the online challenges schools are facing.
“This includes students’ ready access to confronting information and misinformation online, while – at the more serious end – young people may be pushed to take part in unsafe online challenges and pressured into sharing intimate images,” the spokesperson said.
“The role of an eSafety Champion is to help make online safety a priority in their schools, raise awareness of prevention strategies, and share information and resources to help others take action when something goes wrong online.”
The spokesperson said these actions may include reporting online abuse and cyberbullying to the platform, and to eSafety, so they can assist in getting abusive material taken down quickly.
“Our aim is to empower eSafety Champions with the skills, tools and knowledge to keep their students safe online and protect the wellbeing of the entire school community – staff, students, parents and carers,” the spokesperson said.
“We are providing these key contacts with the latest information, research and resources to share with their school community. More than 100 champions have signed up since Safer Internet Day and we are working to grow this network to reach more of Australia’s 10,000 schools.”
Teachers and wellbeing professionals can sign up at the government’s eSafety website. eSafety will also be attending national education conferences in capital cities in August, September and November to promote the eSafety Champions Network and share our resources with teachers and school staff.