Neelie KROES
Vice-President of the European Commission

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Guest blog: The internet is our kids’ primary learning space: here's 3 reform areas

Meral Akin-HeckeToday a guest blog from Meral Akin-Hecke, Austrian digital champion, giving her views on improving the Internet for children.

"The Internet is now the living and learning environment for kids and young people, yet we are lacking a debate: about what children should and should not consume online. I believe there are three areas that need our attention, when it comes to children online.

First, we need "better content" for our kids on the internet. Secondly, we need common sense copyright reform, that doesn't criminalise kids when they use material for their school report. And third, we need a better awareness for user experience for child-friendly and child-produced web content.

For school textbooks we have very restrictive rules and regulations, for kids' films and TV shows we have requirements, for games and apps we have restrictions and suggestions. But we are lacking appropriate guidelines for what a quality website for kids should entail, in the school context.

Every schoolkid, teacher or classroom can start a blog or share their videos or presentations on a self-created website. There is a need to discuss how we can ensure that school-related or private online content also meets requirements.

As a jury member for the Best Content Award, I had the chance to rate 65 national winner websites in 4 categories. What I learned was that the quality among the websites was very different, despite the fact that these were already national winners. That means we have to raise awareness for the minimum requirements that a website or online platform for kids has to have: standards such as contact details, legal information, imprints, parental information, or content classification.

A second issue that is of utmost importance to children — without them knowing about it — is the issue of copyright. Whether it's for a school report or a private blog, children are not aware of how to deal with copyrighted material. This problem can be tackled in two ways: either by raising awareness and continuing to disallow children from using a picture of Mickey Mouse in their school presentations. Or by a comprehensive copyright reform that updates current regulations to the modern, connected environment. I, of course, believe in the latter.

A third point that needs our attention is usability and other standards when producing online content. Professional web developers and web designers are of course aware of these issues and take them into consideration. But school classes or private individuals aren't: either we did not learn about them or we just don't implement them correctly. This should change, we are responsible for the better internet for our kids: that means we should also understand that our standards make the quality of the web. As a society we should ask for more accurate online content for kids, that meets their needs better – and we should not be afraid to raise our voices and make clear what our children do need."

 

Further information:

Best Content Award 2014 Winners: http://www.bestcontentaward.eu/winners

The EU's strategy on Creating a Better Internet for Kids.

Towards a better internet for children – Policy, Players and Paradoxes, Brian O'Neill, Elisabeth Staksrud & Sharon McLaughlin (eds.) Nordicom, 2013.

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  • The law that prohibits children from using a picture of Mickey Mouse in their school presentation is an ass; of course this should be considered "fair use", and if it is not, the law should be changed. What children do need to know, however, is the difference between copying such images and plagiarism. Learning how to paraphrase or even quote the ideas of someone else, while giving credit to the original author is, in my experience, not something that always comes naturally to young people. It should not be necessary to pass university term papers through "Turnitin" to detect plagiarism; a young writer should not need such supervision at that stage in their education.

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