The increase in Internet access at schools has led to safety concerns over the level of exposure children have to inappropriate content on the web. Although the Internet can serve as an efficient pool of resources to aid education and make learning more accessible, such concerns need to be addressed before parents feel secure in allowing their children to access computers without full supervision.
Internet access at schools has increased exponentially in the last 15 years. According to The National Center for Education Statistics, almost 100 per cent of U.S. schools had Internet access as of 2005, an increase from 34 per cent in 1994. Of these schools, 99 per cent used blocking and filtering material to prevent students access to inappropriate material and 96 per cent of schools ensured teachers and staff monitored the usage of children.
Safe and secure Internet access at school is important both for the welfare of children and for the peace of mind of parents. With the increase in reports of child abduction and abuse, parents need to know that their children are not being exposed to unscrupulous individuals or material over the web. Without this security, there is a risk that the vast potential the Internet has as an educational tool will be outweighed by the associated risks.
There are two main ways in which children face exposure to harm through Internet access. Because of the open, unregulated nature of the Internet, children may be exposed to inappropriate content, such as sexually explicit material, offensive racist material or detailed information on how to make home-made bombs. Children can also be targeted in chat rooms by paedophiles who masquerade under a fake juvenile identity to gain the trust of a child with the hope of eventually arranging a meeting.
As Internet usage in schools has grown, so has the array of security features to protect against children accessing inappropriate material. The vast majority of schools in the United States and across the world now have sophisticated software to block inappropriate access. In the United States, the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA) has added a further incentive by barring schools without proper security measures from receiving government backed "E-rate" discounts.
Although various security measures are put in place by schools to restrict Internet access, such measures are rarely infallible. Modern children are becoming increasingly adept in their knowledge of computers and software and can work around security measures by a variety of means, such as utilising a proxy server to access desired material, rather than the school's server. Chat rooms can also play a key role in a child's social life, so it is questionable whether entirely blocking such access to protect them from potential predators is a viable solution. As children become more computer literate, teaching them to recognise warning signs for themselves could play a core role in future security.
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