Childnet contributes to major international youth conference on ICT for Peace

Posted on 02 September 2007

Stephen Carrick-Davies, Childnet’s CEO travelled this week to Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt to speak at International Youth Forum “The Power of Youth for Peace”. The international event, which was organised by The Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement, brought together over 600 young people from 100 different countries to review how ICT could be better used in promoting and sustaining a culture of peace among young people.

The conference was the first of its kind and Egypt’s First Lady, Mrs Mubarak, was joined by many senior officials from industry, Government, NGOs, and international bodies such as the UN, ITU and the Global Alliance for ICT and Development, to listen, learn from and support the youth in their discussions.

Stephen spoke at the first session which was chaired by Microsoft’s President, Jean-Philippe Courtois and attended by the First Lady.  Entitled ‘Rules of Engagement – What it takes to be safe on the net,’ Stephen began by emphasising the fact that for many young people the internet is their world; one which they are increasingly able to shape. An amazing, creative, constantly-changing space through which they can project their identities, communicate, explore, and engage with others, often with other children from different countries, cultures and backgrounds.   He went on to illustrate how the powerful new ‘Web2’ internet tools and services such as Wikis and social networking sites made it easier for children to communicate and personalise their content, and, importantly, to influence each other. Any discussion about Peace therefore has to include a robust discussion with young people about how the internet and mobile phones are being used and could be better harnessed by young people to promote peace and cultivate better relationships, especially in areas of the world where there is conflict.

To a packed session Stephen said,

“ Peace is not just about the absence of war, it starts at the local, immediate level, with yourself, your friend, your immediate community and how you communicate with and treat all who you are in relationships with. This is what the internet facilitates. As a global medium it has a unique role in bringing people together”.

Stephen went on,

"However, if security and safety are the core hallmarks of Peace, it is vital that the medium itself is safe. Indeed, young people won’t feel confident to engage with those outside of their immediate environments, or move out of their cultural comfort-zones and take the time to interact with others from different cultures and world-views, if their online environment is not safe or the online behaviour of other people is threatening.” 

Stephen went on to say,

“Sadly the internet is far from safe or peaceful for many young people and we are how seeing how some children are using it to harass and bully, fight and inflict pain on their peers. This is the real Peace issue relevant for young people right now”. 

Stephen shared from the experience in the UK where 22% of young people report having been cyberbullied by others.

[1]

He spoke directly to the young people present challenging them to actively “wage peace” online. To recognise how cyberbullying can destroy young lives and to be sure that they were modelling good behaviour to their peers.  He encouraged them to reject the cynicism and negative culture which is emerging where some young people use the internet and mobile phones as a “weapon of mass derision” and pain.

Stephen said,

“The Internet has now become a kind of ‘world mirror’, reflecting and indeed amplifying back to us all that is great in our societies, but also so much which is destructive, often hidden and unpalatable. It’s easy to blame the technology but we also need to keep this in balance. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror you don’t simply blame the mirror”

[2] Again speaking directly to the young people afterwards, Stephen challenged them to think how they could better use the new Social Networking services to better channel their creativity, energy, idealism and vision in creating and promote peace across cultures and borders. “Don’t wait for the adults to do it, so many of them don’t fully understand this new space”, he told them.“Rather start yourselves, with your own network of friends and constantly ask yourself what would have Gandhi have done if he had a MYSPACE account to “be the change you want to see?”

[3] Stephen shared with others the experience Childnet has had in promoting and rewarding young people who are using the internet for peace.  For 8 years the Childnet Awards programme (sponsored Cable & Wireless) funded a number of outstanding online youth peace projects from around the world including: Me Against terrorism, Child Soldiers, and schools projects in Northern Ireland. This “Dot hope effect” of the internet can be seen at www.childnetacademy.org/winners

In the two hour session Stephen also was asked to share from the lessons learnt about the self-regulatory model and inter-sector working in the UK.  He cited success that the UK Government Home Secretary’s Task Force on Child Protection on the Internet had had.  Established in 2001, this group brought together all the key players from industry, law enforcement, child advocacy groups, education and other Government departments to review how self-regulation could better work and what key actions were needed to ensure that children are better protected online. Childnet is an active member of this Task Force and Stephen believed that the model of bringing different sectors together had been highly effective.  Results included the production of best practice models for industry, effective education awareness programmes, changes in legislation, the establishment of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. In addition the Internet Watch Foundation, the UK Hotline has worked hard with its members to remove child abuse images published and accessible on UK servers, and blocking access to Illegal websites containing Child sexual abuse images.

Responding to questions from the floor, Stephen shared Childnet’s view that one of the priorities for any Government in better supporting children’s safe and positive use of ICT was for the inclusion of E-Safety on the formal curriculum of schools. He said,

“Educating children about how to behave online and understand the very real safety issues is supremely relevant to the teaching of citizenship and personal safety in schools”.

He went on,

“If the role of schools is to prepare children for life outside of the school gate and help children think for themselves, then it needs to be relevant to the world children are inhabiting. ICT is crucial for the knowledge economy and is now such an important life skill, it’s time schools taught children how to live life to the full online and that includes safety and moral responsibilities in environments which aren’t used in the classroom such as Instant Messenger, Chat and Social Networking sites.”

Stephen acknowledged that this was extremely challenging for teachers many of whom had no hands-on experience of these spaces, but Stephen shared from the work that Childnet was doing in providing new resources for teachers and working with the UK Government and Microsoft in better equipping and supporting teachers in their initial teacher training and continual professional development in E-Safety issues.

Many delegates in the room asked about how Parents could also be engaged to help children online and Stephen shared from Childnet’s recent experience of producing the ‘Know IT ALL’ interactive CD-ROM which helps parents understand the latest tools their children are using, the benefits for families of embracing the internet and how best to talk to children about safety issues. Because KIA is already translated into Arabic and 8 other languages Stephen hoped that it could be adapted and made more widely available throughout the Arab World and elsewhere.

There followed extensive questions and excellent contributions from young people and others present and a list of key action points for moving forward will be drawn up. In addition Stephen met with Mrs Mubarak after the session who was very keen to review how Childnet’s experience and resources could be better used in Egypt and in a new Cyber Peace initiative which was being launched at the Conference.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

See conference website at

http://www.powerofyouthforpeace.org/En

Other themes in the conference included: Understanding ourselves, Youth Leading Development, Violence or Peace and Health for all.

See information about Childnet at

www.childnet-int.org

Contact Stephen Carrick-Davies, CEO at

[email protected]

NOTES:

1.

Research carried out for the Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA), for example, found that 22% of 11-16 year-olds had been a victim of cyberbullying (P. Smith, J. Mahdavi et al 2006).

2.

A phrase recently used by Vincent Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet.

3.

In reflection of Gandhi’s wonderful phrase “be the change you want to see!”

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