Younger generations are growing up without ever knowing what it’s like to live without the Internet, mobile phones, or other tech gadgets – a trend that the pandemic has reinforced over the past two years as schools closed their doors and education shifted online for students across the globe.
While the Internet can be fun, exciting, and educational, it also has its dangers. Children and adolescents who are still learning how the world works are vulnerable to risks like cyberbullying, age-inappropriate content, grooming, data privacy, and identity theft.
The children’s charity UNICEF reports that one in three Internet users is a child under the age of 18. And in the EU – according to the 2020 report EU Kids Online from the London School of Economics – more than 80% of children aged 9 to 16 use a smartphone and 47% use a PC or laptop to go online. The same report also states that more than 20% of children between the ages of 9 and 14 have had a bad experience on the Internet. However, only 44% of respondents sought support from friends, 37% talked to their parents, and just 7% reported the situation to their teachers.
Cyber insecurity has become a problem that must be tackled on an ongoing basis. With this in mind, Huawei developed the SmartBus project to provide children and adolescents between 10 and 14 years old with the information they need to surf the Internet safely.
Mentors on the SmartBus create an engaging, interactive, and fun learning environment that children can relate to. They do this through activities such as games inspired by Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp that simulate potentially risky situations like photo-sharing requests or being encouraged to use gambling apps.
With a motto of #ShareWithoutRisk, the SmartBus training helps kids become more aware of accessing age-appropriate information and how to take protective measures such as using antivirus software, updating their devices, choosing strong passwords, and configuring social networks to maximize data privacy, including location. Children are also instructed to be mindful of acting with the same caution online as they would do in real life and to immediately report any inappropriate contact to a teacher or parent.
Launched in Belgium on October 4, 2019, the Huawei SmartBus had visited 126 different schools in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain by the end of 2020, reaching more than 25,000 children, parents, and teachers.
Now back in full force after the pandemic, the SmartBus will tour 20 Portuguese cities in the north and south of the country. Up to 5,000 children in more than 24 schools will have learned how to stay safe online by the end of December 2021.