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The Online Safety Action Plan 2018-2019 (Government of Ireland, 2018) is the Irish Government’s first Action Plan for Online Safety. It covers an 18-month period, commencing July 2018, but acknowledges that further actions will be required in the years following the plan’s implementation. The Action Plan’s target group is all internet users in Ireland, with a focus on children. The primary objective of the Action Plan for Online Safety is to build safeguards at government level, raising awareness for all users to enjoy the benefits of the internet and what it can offer while ensuring that activities do not give rise to the risks associated with online safety. The Action Plan has five overarching goals:
1. Online Safety for All
2. Better Supports
3. Stronger Protection
4. Influencing Policy and Building our Understanding
5. Improve national planning and support services
Its main measures are 25 specific actions sets out within the plan, with 48 constituent actions.
The Action Plan takes a whole government approach. A cross-departmental group was established to progress the Action Plan’s implementation. Members of the group are the Departments of:
- Business, Enterprise, and Innovation
- Environment, Climate and Communications
- Children and Youth Affairs
- Justice and Equality.
The Department of Education chairs the Sponsors Group.
A National Advisory Council for Online Safety (Nacos) was also established, as part of the Action Plan, to provide advice to Government on online safety policy issues. It includes representatives from a range of stakeholders including Government departments and agencies, relevant NGOs and industry.
Two Progress Reports have taken place. The 2018 Progress Report (Government of Ireland, 2019) outlines the achievements of the Action Plan in the first six months of its implementation, from July to December 2018. The 2019 Mid-Year Progress Report (Government of Ireland, 2019) covers the period January-June 2019.Media literacy and online safety through formal education
Media literacy through formal education
Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 Enhancing Teaching, Learning and Assessment (DES, 2015) recognises the need to provide media literacy education to primary and post-primary school.
At upper secondary level, media literacy is addressed through the optional subject Politics and Society. Students’ digital and media literacy skills are developed as they use technology for research and presentation purposes.
The Leaving Certificate Applied, a state examination for vocational senior second level students, includes media literacy and digital safety within its module Communications and the Digital World. This is one of the fours modules within the subject English and Communications.
However, most media literacy education within secondary school takes place within the lower secondary level/the junior cycle, through the specifically designed, 100-hour short course Digital Media Literacy; and within a compulsory core subject Civic, Social and Political Education.
Online Safety through formal education
The Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools (DES, 2013) specifically includes cyber-bullying in its definition of bullying. Under these Anti-Bullying Procedures, school’s education and prevention strategies must explicitly deal with cyber-bullying. Schools should also provide appropriate opportunities for students to raise their concerns in an environment that is comfortable for the pupil, including concerns about cyber-bullying happening outside of school.
The Education and Training Board Ireland provided the management of school with Cyberbullying in Schools Guidance and Resources for Management (2013). Its recommendations include taking a whole school approach to addressing cyberbullying and involving parents and guardians.
Webwise is the Irish Internet Safety Awareness Centre, co-funded by the Department of Education and co-financed by the European Union’s Connecting Europe Facility. Webwise promotes the autonomous, effective, and safer use of the internet by young people through a sustained information and awareness strategy targeting parents, teachers, and children themselves with consistent and relevant messages. Webwise’s remit includes offering support for teachers. It develops and disseminates resources that help teachers integrate internet safety into teaching and learning in their schools.
Pedagogical tools and support for teachers
The Digital Learning Framework was developed by the Department of Education and trailed in the 2017/2018 academic year, before being rolled out to all schools in 2018/2019. The Framework was established to assist schools in effectively embedding digital technologies into teaching and learning. It provides clarity for school leaders and education providers in how to create a shared vision for how technology can best meet all learners’ needs.
Camara Education Ireland provides schools with support to develop their digital learning strategy, in line with the Digital Learning Framework. Camara Education Ireland is a non-profit organisation, funded by both public and private sources, including Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and Department of Culture, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.
PDST Technology in Education promotes and supports the integration of Information Communication Technology in teaching and learning in primary and second level schools. It is part of the national support service, the Professional Development Service for Teachers, which operates under the aegis of the Department of Education. Among other services, it develops internet safety programmes and subject modules. It advises schools on developing and using Acceptable Use Policies. It also designs and delivers continuing professional development for teachers around integrating ICT into learning and teaching.
Promoting media literacy and online safety through non-formal and informal learning
Be Safe Online is a Government campaign, developed in 2018, to highlight ways to stay safe online. It offers a wide range of Online Safety resources, to support online safety for all citizens, including youths.
During 2020 an additional emphasis on non-formal and informal learning about media literacy and online safety emerged in response to Covid-19 measures. Be Safe Online states:
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role of the internet in our everyday lives. We can be connected with loved ones in an instant, no matter where they are in the world; businesses can access markets and staff can work remotely; and students have a wealth of information and resources at their fingertips.
At the same time there are risks associated with the online world. Be Safe Online is the Government’s campaign to highlight ways to help you stay safe online, particularly during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Be Safe Online website also directs visitors to visit Media Literacy Ireland's website.
Media Literacy Ireland is an independent association of members committed to the promotion of media literacy across Ireland. Members include Government initiatives, such as Professional Development Service for Teachers, WebWise, Youthreach, Quality & Qualifications Ireland, SOLAS (the national Further Education and Training Authority), etc. The Be Media Smart campaign was developed by Media Literacy Ireland to help people tell the difference between reliable and accurate information and or deliberately false or misleading information.
The internet safety initiative, Webwise, offers support for young people, as well as for teachers and parents. It is co-funded by the Department of Education and the European Union’s Connecting Europe Facility.
The CARI Foundation is a registered charity which receives donations and State funding from the Child and Family Agency (Tusla) and other statutory agencies. CARI provides InternetSafety guidelines for children and young people.
The National Adult Literacy Association (NALA) provides media literacy resources, training for adult educators on media literacy and promotional campaigns (such as tv and radio advertising, and running events) to increase awareness of media literacy concerns and promote resources to tackle these concerns. While it is an adult education organisation, NALA also works with early school leavers and other young adults who wish to improve their literacy levels.
Raising awareness about the risks posed by new media
The Health Service Executive’s website offers advice to anyone who experiences Social Media Abuse.
The annual Irish national Safer Internet Day (SID) is organised by Webwise, to promote safe and responsible use of the internet and mobile phone technologies, especially amongst children and young people. This is part of the international SID. SID is organised by the joint Insafe-INHOPE network with the support of the European Commission, with funding provided by the Connecting Europe Facility Programme. As part of SID, Webwise runs the SID Awards to encourage and reward schools around Ireland who run events, activities, and positive actions for Safer Internet Day.
The Irish Safer Internet Centre (SIC) is a consortium of organisations from Education, Child Welfare, Government, and Industry. SIC’s activities are coordinated by the Department of Justice’s Office for Internet Safety, and co-funded by the European Union. It runs an Irish Internet Hotline to combat illegal content on the Internet. All reports are assessed and where content is found to be illegal action is taken. Child grooming can be reported on this website. The Hotline works in collaboration with the police service (An Garda Síochána) and it is overseen by the Department of Justice’s Office for Internet Safety.
The CARI Foundation provides a low-call and confidential National Helpline which provides information and support to individuals and professionals with a concern about child sexual abuse. CARI also provides advice appointments to parents, professionals or any other individual to explore their concerns in relation to child sexual abuse. Approximately 10% of calls to the CARI helpline concerned online grooming and inappropriate contact by adults with minors.
Jigsawis The National Centre for Youth Mental Health. Jigsaw has free online resources available on Cyberbullying: what to do if you're being bullied online. Jigsaw is funded by the Health Service Executive, donations, fundraising and pro-bono support.
Several organisations provide helplines freely available to young people, for listening, support and/or guidance. These are detailed in Chapter 7.7 Making Health Facilities More Youth Friendly.
In response to research showing that inappropriate reporting of suicide may lead to imitational behaviour, the Samaritans offer Media Guidelines for Ireland on reporting suicides. This is relevant to both online and offline media.