Page last updated at 13:47 GMT, Friday, 4 April 2008 14:47 UK

Learning from technology

By Stephen Crowne
Chief executive of Becta

Dr Tanya Byron, PA
The Byron Review said parents were crucial to safer use of the net

The head of the government agency which promotes technology in schools says good things will come out of growing use of computers and the internet by children.

Two separate reports have recently highlighted the dangers and risks that children face when they use the internet.

In late March child psychologist Dr Tanya Byron published an independent report which raised concerns over the safety of children whilst using the internet, with the potential for exposure to harmful images and contact with paedophiles and sex offenders.

This week Ofcom issued the results of a survey of 5,000 adults and 3,000 children that uncovered a worrying lack of awareness among people of all ages around the issue of privacy and safety in the digital world.

These issues should not be taken lightly. It is absolutely crucial that children and young people are protected when using technology, and Dr Byron and Ofcom have rightly identified a need for greater understanding of e-safety among children and their parents.

But in the midst of such concern it is also important that we don't just dismiss the internet and other technology as a dangerous "social evil".

Gadgets galore

Before parents throw their computers away in horror at the news that the virtual world isn't as safe as they once believed, they should consider the huge benefits that the internet, computers and other technology are bringing to children and young people.

Far from simply introducing another danger into our children's lives, technology is helping children to learn like never before.

The dangers and risks of the virtual world are real, but should not overshadow the huge benefits it can bring to children and young people
Stephen Crowne
Evidence shows that where technology is used effectively in schools, the results are inspiring - improved grades and retention rates, greater participation by students and increased effectiveness by teachers and tutors.

Schools across the country are using the internet, mobile phones, interactive whiteboards, hand-held learning devices, school radio stations, blogging, podcasts, digital photography and video conferencing to create increasingly stimulating and exciting environments for their students to learn.

So what should we believe in this climate of mixed messages and worrying reports about the negative impact of technology? Should we curb children's use of the internet and mobile phones because the dangers are too great?

Whether we like it or not, technology is now at the heart of everyday life for us all.

From mobile phones to the internet, we live in a world where boundaries are constantly being pushed back by rapidly changing technologies.

Engage and involve

Rather than shying away from it, we need to be aware of the new risks technology can bring, and act accordingly to ensure anyone who uses mobile phones and the internet - whatever their age - can enjoy their benefits while remaining safe.

Being clued up about technology and e-safety is especially important for parents. For those who are comfortable with new technology and are regular internet users, this isn't really an issue, but according to UK online centres there are over a million families in England with parents who have never been on the net.

Schoolboys using a laptop, BBC
Children are often enthusiastic users of technology
How can these parents help their children stay safe online when they don't have the skills or confidence to access the medium increasingly being used by their children, both at school and in their free time?

The end result is a significant number of children effectively e-bandoned on the net, without parental support and guidance.

Becta's "Next Generation Learning" campaign aims to improve the way schools and colleges use technology for learning, and a key part of this drive is about raising awareness among parents of the benefits of technology and the internet, while encouraging them to stay safe online.

There is a huge amount of advice and guidance available for parents to ensure their children are protected in the virtual world.

Organisations like the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and Stay Safe Online, for example, are working hard to help parents understand more about what their children are doing on the web.

Young people today have grown up with technology, and they respond to learning with technology because it feels like an extension of what they do in their free time.

Technology is improving standards in schools across the country as it makes teaching and learning a more exciting, rewarding and successful experience.

The dangers and risks of the virtual world are real, but should not overshadow the huge benefits it can bring to children and young people.

Online safety push for children
22 Oct 07 |  Education
At a glance: The Byron Review
27 Mar 08 |  Technology
Children flock to social networks
02 Apr 08 |  Technology
Internet safety plans 'pointless'
04 Apr 08 |  Scotland

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