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In today's digital age, children are spending more time online, which has resulted in an increase in cyber threats such as online sexual harassment, child pornography, doxxing, and cyber-bullying, among others. In Uganda, the situation is no different. With the revised lower secondary curriculum embedding ICT as a learning/teaching tool across all subjects, it has become increasingly essential to equip young learners with the knowledge and skills to use digital platforms and tools safely and securely.
In January 2023, Encrypt Uganda in collaboration with National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U), held the first-ever Cyber Security Bootcamp for Kids in Uganda dubbed #CyberCamp2023. This boot camp was aimed at promoting the digital safety and resilience of young learners in Uganda given the drastic emphasis towards the adoption of ICT and digital tools as a platform for learning.
During the 2-days Cybersecurity Bootcamp, we focused on the practical aspects of cybersecurity and we shared examples of real-life threats and challenges faced by children while using digital platforms and how they can stay safe from these threats. On day 1 we discussed common threats like online sexual harassment, child pornography, doxxing, and cyber-bullying among others. On day 2, we took the young learners on a tour of NITA’s Data Center where they had an interesting Q&A session with the Cyber Security Experts. Curious to learn, the kids ended the tour in awe at how deep the rabbit hole goes when discussing cybersecurity. Many of the kids developed an interest in pursuing cybersecurity at a professional and career level in future.
According to the newly revised lower secondary curriculum, ICT is embedded as a learning/teaching tool across all the subjects which means technology adoption is required for the completion of different tasks within the syllabus. Learners will have to be well acquainted with the use of digital tools like cameras to take photos and videos, digital/online mapping especially for subjects like Geography, downloading/uploading and sharing files across the internet, forming learning networks, writing blogs, and the use of social media for interaction among the learners.
The newly revised lower secondary curriculum has made one thing very clear; we must ensure young learners have the basic knowledge needed to use these digital platforms and tools safely and securely meaning we have to build their capacity to achieve this. The #CyberCamp2023 shows Encrypt Uganda’s strong commitment to continue implementing activities aimed at preparing young learners for the digital transformation and overhaul of the education sector in Uganda.
One of the key findings of a research report on children’s safety online in Uganda that we conducted in 2021 with support from the Digital Human Rights Lab and GIZ showed that 30% of the children we interviewed had reported suffering abuse and threats online. The most common threats faced were exposure to inappropriate content, interaction with online predators, and cyberbullying especially on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. The research report also highlighted a high level of illiteracy regarding children’s safety online among teachers, parents, and guardians.
This is alarming because if parents and guardians aren’t well informed about children’s safety online then it makes the work of other stakeholders like Encrypt Uganda difficult in the promotion of children’s safety online. Whereas we have had several engagements aimed at empowering teachers with the basic knowledge needed to ensure children’s safety online, we are planning different digital literacy programs targeting parents as well.
Throughout 2023, Encrypt Uganda is looking forward to more collaboration with different partners and stakeholders who value children’s safety online so that we can expand our scope and reach to different regions, unlike the first #CyberCamp2023 which focused only on Kampala. Furthermore, we are planning more activities around promoting children’s safety online in Uganda targeting kids between 10 to 18 years. Soon, we will be introducing the #CyberCamp2023: Regional Editions which will take place across the different regions of Uganda starting with Northern and Eastern Uganda with a target of empowering between 50 to 100 children by end of the year.
In conclusion, as Encrypt Uganda and other stakeholders continue conducting different activities around children’s safety online in Uganda, our call to action for the government is to develop a national protection strategy for children’s safety online in Uganda. This strategy should recognize all actors and stakeholders, assess the existing responses and pathways, analyse the state of safety of children online in the whole country, make a case for the cost-benefit analysis for the protection of children online, and provide a national framework for implementation of the identified recommendations in line with the broader government strategic plans. Also, and most importantly, action should be taken to ensure that children’s safety online is included in the newly revised lower secondary curriculum since ICT is embedded as a learning tool across all the subjects.