Public Telecom Ministry and ITU team up to raise awareness about cyber security

A two-day Cyber-Security Awareness workshop began this morning in the auditorium of the North Ruimveldt Secondary School with the theme: “The Role of Education in Cyber Security: Developing Digital Citizenship”. It is the result of close collaboration among the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and the Ministries of Public Telecommunications, Education and Social Protection.

This workshop, aimed directly at the Education sector, has attracted the participation of heads of primary and secondary schools, Guidance Counsellors and education administrators on this first day.  On Day Two, Thursday June 15, parents and guardians, teachers, and secondary and tertiary level students will participate.  The programme facilitators are Cyber Security Specialist, Dr. Kay Xuereb and ITU’s Programme Officer, Mr. Sylvester Cadette.

At the brief opening ceremony this morning Mr. Cadette pointed out that the ITU, the United Nations’ specialized agency for Information Communication Technologies, has observed that certain barriers are diminishing rapidly.  He was referring to the lower costs and easy availability of ICT devices like smart phones, tablets and peripherals.  The Internet, he said, has also virtually erased global geographical borders, and its proliferation has turned most young people into “digital citizens”.

Chief Education Officer (CEO,) Ministry of Education, Marcel Hudson addressing the cyber-security workshop at the North Ruimveldt Secondary School
Chief Education Officer (CEO,) Ministry of Education, Marcel Hudson addressing the cyber-security workshop at the North Ruimveldt Secondary School

He stressed the need for all users of communication technologies to be constantly aware of the real and potential negatives lurking online such as being targeted for ‘grooming for sexual purposes’, and especially for cyber bullying.  The latter has already thrown up a number of debilitating results and sociological effects including suicides.

The Barbados-based ITU representative quoted from reports emanating from sister Caribbean countries including Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and St. Vincent & the Grenadines between 2012 and 2017.  The reports pointed to increasing numbers of students reporting feelings of sadness and hopelessness; loneliness and anxiety after being bullied in school.

Bullying, Mr. Cadette noted, has always existed but it was previously done covertly.  With the easy availability of the Internet and high tech devices, it has now become overt.  “Schools and their administrations across the region are struggling to find solutions to combat the psychological and performance-related effects on victims of cyber bullying,” he noted, adding that the ITU has recently established an Online Child Protection Initiative to improve online security around the world.

Chief Education Officer, Mr. Marcel Hudson, spoke about his Ministry’s drive to integrate ICT with schools’ curricula which results in better information sharing and much more interactive teaching/learning experiences.  “We have made tremendous progress with our children,” he said, since the Public Telecommunications Ministry’s initiative began in 2016 to connect schools’ computer laboratories and administration buildings to the national ICT networks.  Some 102 secondary and tertiary education institutions including the CPCE and technical institutes now have free access to the internet.
According to CEO Hudson, the Ministry of Education, with assistance from the ITU and MoPT, is devising effective strategies to face down cyber bullying and to keep students safe from other kinds of threats online.

He was impressed by the organizers’ foresight in including parents and guardians in the workshop (on Day Two) since they also play a crucial role in educating their charges about the risks and vulnerabilities they are exposed to online.

Educational officials at the cyber-security workshop at the North Ruimveldt Secondary School
Educational officials at the cyber-security workshop at the North Ruimveldt Secondary School