Sydney mother Mel Armstrong-Jones, with husband Huw Jones and children Morgan and Amelie, is passionate about cyber safety for her kids. Picture:  Julian Andrews
Sydney mother Mel Armstrong-Jones, with husband Huw Jones and children Morgan and Amelie, is passionate about cyber safety for her kids. Picture: Julian Andrews

How a digital licence could save kids from bullies

Schoolkids around the nation would be required to sit a digital licence test, similar to the old-fashioned pen licence, prior to entering Year 3 under a plan put to the federal government.

Leading child psychologist and digital expert Michael Carr-Gregg has written to the Prime Minister and Communications Minister calling for national leadership on the idea in an effort to stem the risks kids face online and the increase in cyber-bullying.

The test would be required before children were asked or allowed to bring their own devices to use during school hours for educational purposes.

Before sitting the test, kids would complete a series of interactive modules on safe device use with their parents at home.

Sydney mother Mel Armstrong-Jones, with husband Huw Jones and children Morgan and Amelie, is passionate about cyber safety for her kids. Picture:  Julian Andrews
Sydney mother Mel Armstrong-Jones, with husband Huw Jones and children Morgan and Amelie, is passionate about cyber safety for her kids. Picture: Julian Andrews

Questions could include asking children how they would identify a stranger online, what to do in the case of cyber-bullying and how to ensure they are across privacy settings on social media.

"As the father of two children I am calling on you to support this idea as Prime Minister," Dr Carr-Gregg wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

"This is critical if we are to adequately prepare children and young people for the digital future."

Mr Morrison's office said he would not comment on the call by Dr Carr-Gregg but Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said he would meet to discuss his plan.

"I would be very happy along with the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant to sit down and talk with Michael Carr-Gregg about ways to support state governments in their responsibilities for students in the classroom," Senator Fifield said.

But ultimately he said the digital licence was a matter for state governments.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says it’s time for the nation to step up on cyber safety.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says it’s time for the nation to step up on cyber safety.

In an interview with News Corp Dr Carr-Gregg said the nation "can no longer afford to do nothing" on digital safety in schools and leadership on the issue was needed from the highest level of government.

He said the learning and test should be developed and implemented by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and backed by all state and territory education ministers and schools. But it needed to be championed by the federal government in order to make it happen.

A first test would be taken no later than Year 3, or whenever a device is required in the classroom, and then a subsequent follow up test would be held at the commencement of secondary school.

"These skills are as important in 2019 as teaching children how to cross the road how to swim and leadership on this needs to come from the federal government and particularly the Prime Minister."

Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta says the government should get behind the idea of a digital licence.  Picture Kym Smith
Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta says the government should get behind the idea of a digital licence. Picture Kym Smith

Dr Carr-Gregg said the cost of developing and implementing a digital licence would be "a couple of million dollars" but it was "nothing compared to the costs to clean up the mess of the psychological damage that is already being done from unwarranted and unsolicited contact to our children online."

Research shows that kids are being exposed to pornography and online bullying as early as the age of 8 and experts are desperate to get a hold on the risks our kids face online.

Data from the Office of the eSafety Commission last year showed one in four Aussie kids under the age of 12 were being stalked, harassed and abused online. A total of 24 per cent of kids aged 8 to 12 received unwanted contact from strangers in 2017 and this rose to nearly half of all 13 to 17-year-olds (42 per cent).

Experts are desperate to get a hold on the risks our kids face online.
Experts are desperate to get a hold on the risks our kids face online.

ESafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said she would consider any intervention that was helpful to keeping kids safer online in the school environment and welcomed Dr Carr-Gregg's proposal.

"We know that 81 per cent of children are getting access to an internet-enabled device at preschool age or prior," she told News Corp.

"But it doesn't make sense to develop a comprehensive resource like this without having the buy in of all the states and territories otherwise it is just dead in the water - so we really need that too."

Alannah & Madeline Foundation CEO Lesley Podesta said the federal government should get behind Dr Carr-Gregg's idea of a digital licence.

"Digital Licence is a proven and evidence-based online tool designed to keep students safe online. Every child would benefit and the Foundation supports Michael Carr-Gregg's call to make it available," Ms Podesta said.

"This is no longer a " maybe", it's a requirement, and we call on the Federal Government to get behind the eSmart Digital Licence and make it available to every child."

Executive director of The Parenthood Alys Gagnon said while parents had a responsibility to teach their kids about online safety, it was also a community responsibility - which included schools. She said a digital license could only be a good thing.

"Parents have a responsibility to be monitoring their children's usage online and teaching them about the risks but not all parents are ICT engineers - lots of parents are flying pretty blind," Ms Gagnon said.

"This is another layer of protection when parents aren't there with their kids in schools."

President of the Australian Secondary Principals' Association Andrew Pierpoint said the concept was a good one and would be welcomed.

"We are very good at teaching and enforcing safety on things like woodwork or hospitality so I think the overall concept of this is a good one," he said.

"The simple notion of national leadership from the Prime Minister gives it an air of significance and importance that will get the states on board so he should be leading this."

Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said: "The Government hasn't discussed the details with us, but Labor would seriously consider any proposal that helped keep our kids safe online."



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