Increasing education about online safety and fortifying structures to protect citizens with legislation were proposals put forward to limit hostile activity associated with internet usage.
Country Manager, Flow Jamaica, Stephen Price made calls to implement these change mechanisms, during Tuesday’s Safer Internet Day (SID) 2021 Virtual Teen Summit. The event was streamed live from the Knutsford Court Hotel to hundreds of viewers on Flow Jamaica’s Facebook and YouTube Pages, and the Jamaica Observer’s website.
Flow Jamaica, a subsidiary of leading communications company Liberty Latin America (LLA), joined others in the group of companies to celebrate SID 2021 across the region. The group were also joined by approximately 130 countries worldwide.
SID was staged under the global theme ‘Together for a Better Internet’. The summit focused on the importance of digital responsibility and measures persons, specifically youth and seniors, should employ when using the internet.
Price said it was crucial to ramp up efforts that safeguard users against deviant behaviours. His observation stems from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and its massive influence on online activity. Internet usage has increased globally by 40 – 60 per cent over the last year, causing an increase in vulnerable persons.
“Parents and caregivers play a crucial role in empowering and supporting our children to use technology responsibly and respectfully. Teachers, educators and social workers can help by equipping their pupils and students with digital literacy skills and by developing their critical thinking skills, which will allow them to better navigate the online world,” shared Price.
He said, ultimately “…decision-makers and politicians need to establish and nurture a culture in which all of the above can function and thrive … by ensuring that there are opportunities in the curriculum for children and young people to learn about online safety and provide supporting resources. They [politicians and decision makers] must also take the lead in governance and legislation,” urged Price, who is also Chairman of the Flow Foundation.
In a recorded speech aired at the Summit, Hon. Daryl Vaz, Minister of Science, Energy and Technology, and the Hon. Fayval Williams, Minister of Education, Youth and Information, said the government is acting to protect online users.
“This increased access exposes children to cyberbullying, child trafficking, online scams, inappropriate content and most disturbingly, online predators,” said Vaz. “As a ministry, we are cognizant of this reality, and we have been spreading the cybersecurity message across the length and breadth of this island through the Jamaica Cyber Incident Response Team, and prior to COVID-19, we would have sensitised scores of young people.”
Minister Williams continued: “The Ministry of Education, Youth and Information has ensured that there are opportunities in the curriculum for children to learn about online safety and that parents and caregivers, through our agency – the National Parent Support Commission – have access to appropriate information and sources of support.”
She added: “The government has taken a lead role in governance and legislation to safeguard the protection and well-being of children and young people through effective child protection strategies for the online world.”
Minister Vaz also announced imminent advances for the information technology sector, with a government-financed broadband project worth over 200 million U.S. dollars (US$200,000,000.00).
“We are rolling out our national broadband plan to take internet access to the last mile of the country. The government will be making the largest single investment in ICT infrastructure in the country, an estimated two hundred thirty-seven million U.S. dollars (US$237,000,000.00) for the development of our national broadband,” Vaz revealed.
He added: “We have a plan to place at least three Wi-Fi hotspots to each constituency across the island, further increasing access to the internet for all.” Vaz said this was important for Jamaicans to capitalise on benefits projected in a World Economic Forum report that 65 per cent of children in primary schools would be working jobs that do not yet exist.
Flow Jamaica has invested millions in educational access for the young, with Price highlighting their Internet in Schools programme. The programme provides free internet service to over 300 primary schools. Over the years, the company has also certified over 500 Safer Internet Ambassadors in primary schools across the country. Its Mission Connect programme has brought connectivity to more unserved and underserved communities. Its Community Links, internet centres, is located in several neighbourhoods.