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The alternative to schools being closed on account of the pandemic was virtual learning in India and there is enough discussion surrounding this prolonged closure, so I will not get into that at the moment simply state we are the only country in the world that has had the youngest locked up for this time duration! Unfortunately this virtual access came with its own set of challenges, and the recent trend that is worrying educators is emergence of young teenagers believing that being certified by online coding sites that have been aggressively marketed since we went into our first lockdown (parents were struggling to pay school fees but these expensive sites found their audience with ease – marketing?), are equipping them with expertise to ‘hack’ into smart devices including websites of organisations because they ‘know the tricks’ and enough ‘not to get caught’.

I was surprised with the words ‘ethical’ hacking emerge as a justification that mislead children into believing that accessing their parent’s social media handles or for that matter, peers in their class is ‘fine’. The scary part is when this gets into those ‘black holes’ as I call it which escalate into violence and sexual activity and befriending strangers, and sharing data that can only come back to haunt them.

While one does admire the skill to be able to apply the knowledge amassed, one does wonder why this skill does not come into play when they are in class, submitting assignments or taking examinations while these become the much sought after post school hours ‘recreation’. Too tired to study, and parents share that children are overburdened with online screen time, yet these parents welcome programs that are ‘training’ their children to ‘explore’ what I consider a peril that will slowly creep into their world and families will find themselves slipping into oblivion.

Parents, a shout out to you as part of this blog to monitor and communicate with your middle and high schooler who are misguided about believing that breaking into a teacher’s cloud is ‘smart’. While on the subject, this is an alert for principals and school owners to assess their school technology infrastructure vulnerability as children have naturally embraced technology and will explore all possible options to compromise it (children are children after all – if there is a way to break a rule, they will find a way. Many of our peers did this when we were kids, so the the only difference is physical vs technology).

What’s even more worrying for me is that while educators are thinking of ways and means to curb this monster that is fast emerging, parents seem to think it is not their responsibility and teenagers will be teenagers!

We have instances of boys chat room chats in the past that targeted a fellow classmate who was a girl, and we all know the shocking revelations that spoke of proposed sexual abuse. We now have instances of hacking, and kids claiming how weak the school technology is, and believing this will make them popular in their peer group because they managed to ‘infiltrate’. We now have instances of black mailing when smart phones are hacked, and boys and girls exposed. We now have teenagers openly ‘chatting’ their thoughts thanks to the family bonding over Netflix that has their minds populated with a violent series or movies which is not age appropriate and infact has abusive content, and ‘strategies’ to hack. We now have teenagers oblivious of the consequences of where all this is leading because they can claim mental depression when found guilty and get away?

Bitcoin trading is an everyday practice to avoid parental ‘watch’ in addition to using different ways and means to ‘explore’. Please do read between the lines, I mean this is threatening to rob their innocence and we all know the pandemic did enough damage to their mental health. We have instances of parent’s bank account details being shared with strangers which has led to money being drained. Their own parents!!!

What concerns educators when they correct the assessment papers is that the language usage remains basic but when ‘chats’ come to surface (because thankfully there is always that one up-stander who believes ‘this is wrong’ and will share) we find immaculate spellings with abusive language used.

Blaming prolonged school closure cannot be a student or parent’s justification, and as educators will point out, quite frankly this is the responsibility of the parent. Granted working parents will find it difficult to monitor, but then some non negotiable restrictions need to be in place, and there are enough free online resources to help parents ‘secure’ their children’s devices with a high level security.

The point I really want to get at is that this home-school partnership means that we will have to work together if we have to control this monster, and it has already managed to creep into the classrooms and led to an impact on academic performance. While I am all for freedom, and everyone who knows me I bat for students and their right to choice, I would like to alert parents that freedom comes with a sense of responsibility. These are young minds, and let them not drift into believing there are short cuts to life. I was openly challenged by a student in Year 8, “Ms Fatema I am the smartest one in my coding class, and I have been offered a job so why should I complete my schooling? I will earn x amount before I turn 18.”

Well parents, ‘congratulations’ if this is your child because he has a job offer but for us educators, childhood cannot be fast-tracked and should not. Because when life throws you a curve ball, your child may not be able to switch gears and adapt alternative skills simply because they do not have it! I would rather this 8th grader contribute to the society and the community in ways by creating apps to help bring help to people who need it, use these apps to create solutions surely not ‘hack’ into systems. There will be a time to ‘earn’ but there is definitely a time to ‘learn’.

I would urge school managements to schedule experts talking to students and parents about what constitutes cyber crime (mind you a lot of what is written in this blog includes these violations), urge parents to take stock of what’s going on in the child’s world and consult the right experts if this is becoming threatening, and teachers to be vigilant about student behaviour especially when their academic performance begins to ‘dip’.

This is an alert, and I do hope, this is not the scariest consequence of the pandemic – there are way too many anyway. And for god’s sake, I hope schools open because this continued online existence is given children the license to-do.

Author

Fatema Agarkar

Founder, Agarkar Centre of Excellence Veteran of 3 educational start-ups – is now a Founder of Agarkar Centre of Excellence, Fatema’s passion for teaching-learning and children defines the different roles she has crafted – as an edupreneur, educator and mentor.

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