There is the need to introduce educators to tools that encourage self-expression and to enable them to use information technology in a creative way to develop ideas for a safer and better internet for kids, as well as to motivate them to communicate their experiences in the school community. As a result, Lithuanian schools are introducing the work of Safer Internet Ambassadors (SIAs) who seek a safe cyberspace for pupils.
The first SIAs were trained in 2012–2014. During that period, 13 Safer Internet Ambassadors were selected and trained under the SocialWeb-SocialWork project, aimed at improving children’s online safety. After the training, the qualified SIAs actively participated in events and initiatives with the objective of sharing their experiences in educating and encouraging pupils and other members of the school community to behave safely and ethically in cyberspace. The trained ambassadors also created informational material and the former SIA website, and organised competitions and professional development seminars for their colleagues.
In 2016–2018, the SIA initiatives expanded as they prepared materials for the website of the newly implemented project “Safer Internet Centre Lithuania: draugiskasinternetas.lt II”. It initiated the creation of the Safer Internet Youth Forum, and authored professional development programmes for training new Safer Internet Ambassadors. These programmes trained 30 lecturers and educators whose educational activities continue to improve the ability of Lithuanian school communities to ensure the safety of the new generation by sharing the best European and Lithuanian practices of better and safer internet use with Lithuanian teachers. The trainings led by these ambassadors recruited almost 400 new members to join the ranks of the SIAs and led to the creation of the SIA Facebook group, which remains active to this day. It shares a lot of useful information to help develop pupils’ ability to be safe online.
In 2020, the telecommunications sector’s safer internet project “Safer Internet: draugiskasinternetas.lt III”, which received funding from the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) financial instrument and the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, continued the task of supporting teachers on these issues by offering a live video broadcast Mokytojo TV, a video conference for the Safer Internet Ambassadors/lecturers, a SIA conference, and training for new SIAs, which encouraged the establishment of school communities for collective activities.
On 12 March 2020, the live video broadcast Why teachers are needed as Safer Internet Ambassadors was organised for teachers of various subjects who were already Safer Internet Ambassadors or wanted to join in that capacity. It presented the current issues for SIAs, shared good practices to encourage students to be safe online, and offered directions for support when needed. The participants discussed emerging online dangers and ways to avoid them, and answered questions from the listeners. The broadcast also presented the upcoming training for new Safer Internet Ambassadors.
In May 2020, the project team organised a video conference for Safer Internet Ambassadors and lecturers. The participants discussed current issues related to safe online behaviour for pupils, including safety tools for remote study, to identify fake news, the skills to identify safe and trusted websites, the protection of children against potentially harmful content, personal data and online identity security, cyberattacks, online gaming, and so on. During the conference, the partners of the SIA project shared the potential of including their smart products in the lessons. More information on these topics is available on the Lithuanian Safer Internet Centre website and on the e-saugumas website, administered by the project partner Communications Regulatory Authority of the Republic of Lithuania (RRT).
From September to December 2020, teachers of various subjects, school librarians, and pupil support specialists in five Lithuanian cities participated in the training session “Safer Internet Ambassador work in a modern school: community gathering for a safe cyberspace for pupils”. The training aimed to expand the network of Safer Internet Ambassadors, so that more educators would teach vulnerable children the ways of staying safe online and encourage their colleagues to organise collective safer internet activities in schools. When the quarantine measures were introduced due to the pandemic, all training moved online. 330 new SIAs successfully completed the training.
The network of Safer Internet Ambassadors has expanded each year, together with its course of action. The key directives include teaching pupils and the school community about the potential of the internet, communicating, collaborating and sharing tools, developing the skills to safely navigate media outlets, and teaching children to be safe online. The SIAs bring together school communities through events, quizzes, and competitions, they organise Safer Internet Days (SID) in schools, and participate in annual Safer Internet Day events in Lithuania and Europe.
It is exemplary to see that children’s online safety has become a responsibility for schools that is taken not only by IT teachers, but also headmasters and their assistants, social educators, librarians, and teachers of any other subject. We all need to become Safer Internet Ambassadors so that our students can truly be safer online. The e-safety of pupils should become a priority for all those involved in education. Only by joining collective efforts we can expect pupils to feel safe online and use this technology in responsible, respectful, critical, and creative ways.
Find out more about the work of the Lithuanian Safer Internet Centre, including its awareness raising, helpline, hotline and youth participation services – or find similar information for Safer Internet Centres throughout Europe.