Google targets 30,000 students in online child safety campaign

Cyber threats such as online bullying, e-threats and stalking call for child online protection. PHOTO | FILE

Google Kenya is targeting 30,000 more secondary school students with its online child safety campaign that seeks to promote responsible and positive use of digital technology among young people.

The programme initiated last year by the global tech firm in partnership with Code-IP which designed the Child Online Protection Kenya was initially accessible to schools within Nairobi County and its environs. But Google intends to spread it to 24 other counties.

Within the first year of rollout, the programme has seen 15,000 students from 30 schools trained through a peer-to-peer mentoring club on child online safety called the Kenya Webrangers.

Michael Murungi, Google’s head of policy and government affairs for East Africa, said the firm intends to scale up the programme to 24 other counties targeting 30,000 students from 3,000 secondary schools.

Protecting children online is now a global challenge. In Kenya, it is a concern of many parents, government, parents and multinational firms.

“Currently 15,000 students have benefited from the Child Online Safety. However, we target to hit 45,000 students by the end of this year,” Mr Murungi said.

“There is a lot of content available on the Internet, both positive and negative. What needs to be done is to empower users – from parents, teachers and students – so that the platform can be used successfully,” he added in a side interview during the Safer Internet Day at Alliance High School on Tuesday.

Improved telecommunication infrastructure has cut Internet charges, enabling many Kenyans to access cheap and high-speed Internet.

Four submarine fibre optic cables connecting the country to the rest of the world and massive investment in metro fibre connectivity has been undertaken.

Internet users in Kenya hit 31.9 million by December 2015 from three million users in 2008.

A major concern is cyber threats such as online bullying, which can range from embarrassing or cruel online posts, pictures, e-threats, harassment, negative comments and stalking through e-mails, websites, social networks and text messages. These call for child online protection.

The initiative goes beyond these by showcasing the positive impacts on the Internet to the society and at individual levels.

Alex Gakuru, the executive director of Code-IP, said the programme is a step towards addressing challenges and giving the youth localised material that can help them identify online risks to come up with solutions to tackle the problem.

“We have localised online safety materials, giving it the Kenya context. We have also involved students involved in coming up with the solutions. It is not for us to tell them how to go around it, but the youths to tell us,” Mr Gakuru noted.

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