Special needs students to get guidance on Net safety

AN INTERNET safety programme for students with special needs will be piloted at three schools later this year.

It will teach them about managing online relationships, inappropriate content, time spent on mobile devices and how to deal with online harassment.

The short classes will be conducted in small groups with students aged seven to 18 taking part in role-play, games and activities.

The curriculum is being developed by Touch Cyber Wellness, a voluntary welfare organisation that teaches Internet safety.

Telco Singtel is funding the $100,000 programme.

The three schools taking part are Chaoyang School and Tanglin School, both run by the Association for Persons with Special Needs, and the Lee Kong Chian Gardens School run by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled (Minds).

Mainstream schools are given an online safety curriculum by the Education Ministry and many also use private companies like Touch Cyber Wellness.

But special education schools have largely been left on their own, even though their students have access to technological devices.

Minds schools, for example, do not have an online safety curriculum although teachers touch on the subject through social development and technology.

Autistic youngsters are especially attracted to technology and gadgets, according to The Early Childhood and Special Needs Education Academic Group at the National Institute of Education.

While there is no local data about special needs children being victims of online scams or bullying, those with autism or intellectual disabilities can have difficulty navigating relationships, making them susceptible to being taken advantage of.

Mr Chong Ee Jay, assistant manager at Touch Cyber Wellness, told The Straits Times: "The special needs group is often a marginalised and overlooked sector when it comes to cyber wellness education, yet they are also a group that is easily deceived and manipulated."

Mr Chia Boon Chong, associate director of group corporate social responsibility at Singtel, said: "Timely education can minimise risks and maximise the child's development, especially for children with special needs."

Staff of special education schools agreed.

"As it is, children are a very vulnerable and impressionable cohort of netizens, what more those with special needs," said Minds chief executive Keh Eng Song.

"The benefits of having this curriculum are that information and initiatives to educate them are broken down into simpler and comprehensible measures," he added.

Singtel and Touch Cyber Wellness hope to extend their programme to all 20 special education schools in Singapore.

Mr Chong said: "The long-term plan is not that Touch continues to run this, but that we teach the school teachers to deliver the programme, so that it's more sustainable."



This article was first published on March 23, 2015.
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