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Mitigate risks in online learning for children

As a father of school going children (an 18-year old and a 12-year old) myself, the recent transition to online learning or virtual one-on-one or group learning amidst Covid-19 is understandable. However, as a professional involved in the business of background screening of both educators and non-academic staff in several schools globally for several year, I acknowledge the fears and misunderstandings many parents must be feeling. When undertaking school background screening checks, Avvanz has seen more than 30% discrepancies or derogatory issues in resumes. Whilst most are minor ones involving dates and terminology related errors, there are some with more serious issues of course.

Online sex scams are already very common and with children mandated to be spending more time online, they might become more vulnerable to these scams.

Some disturbing cases that have been in the news in 2020:

  • A secondary school teacher in Singapore got into a sexually charged relationship with the student and this started on Instagram. (23rd Jan 2020)
  • Reported in The U.S. Sun (13th Jan 2020)
  • A 33-year old teacher was charged after exchanging obscene photographs with highly sexualised messages (8th Feb 2020)
  • Reported in Mirror UK (11th Jan 2020)             

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime or UNODC reports that online child sexual exploitation and abuse can be in form of:

  • Online grooming (enticement or solicitation of children for sexual purposes). states that teens are most likely to receive such sexual solicitations. Apparently, the “predators” may ask teens to talk about sex, to give out personal sexual information, to send sexy photos online, or to meet offline for a possible sexual encounter.
  • Child sex abuse or exploitation material
  • Live streaming of child sexual abuse

What are some possible ways to mitigate this?

  • Virtual Learning sessions should be ideally not recorded – Data Privacy regulations should be considered here, and this varies from country to country. Council of International Schools talks about the risk assessment to weigh up the risks and how to mitigate any harm associated with live-streaming and/or recording online sessions. Schools’ existing safeguarding policies and procedures should be amended to include specific guidance for online learning. Click to read this article.
  • Parental guidance is necessary to ensure children are educated on the possible risks of going online. I always discuss this with my kids and constantly remind them to be watchful and alert and let me and my wife know of anything abnormal with anyone they interact with, especially online.
  • It is widely acknowledged that background screening checks are an essential part of keeping children safe in education settings. Based on Avvanz’s education industry related clients’ practices, we have noted that Social Media Check (to vet for Radicalism, Sexually explicit content, Potentially unlawful activities including theft and fraud, Potentially violent behaviours, Racism and/or Demonstrations of intolerance and Unprofessional comments (vulgarity)) has become almost a mandatory component along with Criminal, Civil Litigation, Sex offenders’ registry, Global Watchlist & Sanctions and Education checks. Social media checks allow schools to ensure that all adults are aligned with the vision, values and codes of conduct of their schools and the industry. All these data points will be extremely valuable in deciding the hiring or deployment of educators before they go online with the children.

During these challenging times, we have been privileged to see some outstanding learning opportunities be offered to our children. It has been a humbling experience and has demonstrated the outstanding commitment made by educators around the world. However, our core purpose is to keep child safe and ensure that we are confident that we eradicate the sinister few, who have an intent to hurt or harm our children. With all these measures, all of us have to play our part and ensure our children’s interests are safeguarded and they are well protected.

Author: Kannan Chettiar, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Avvanz. Avvanz is an award winning Background Checks (ScreenGlobal) and Blended Training Solutions (LearnGlobal) provider. 

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