America’s Federal Bureau of Investigation has warned that children who are spending more time online as a result of early school closures face an increased risk of being exploited.
In a statement issued on March 23, the FBI wrote: “Due to school closings as a result of COVID-19, children will potentially have an increased online presence and/or be in a position that puts them at an inadvertent risk.
“Due to this newly developing environment, the FBI is seeking to warn parents, educators, caregivers, and children about the dangers of online sexual exploitation and signs of child abuse.”
According to UNESCO monitoring, over 160 countries have implemented nationwide closures of educational institutions in response to the COVID-19 health crisis, impacting over 87% of the world’s student population.
In America, where almost all public-school buildings are now closed in the majority of states, the digital divide has deepened between those students who have the computers and internet access needed to carry on their education online and those who don’t.
According to a 2019 report from the Federal Communications Commission, around 21 million people in the United States don’t have access to broadband. In New York City alone, there are an estimated 300,000 students without access to electronics, according to the Department of Education’s chancellor, Richard Carranza.
In some states, it’s the schools rather than the students that lack the resources needed to educate virtually.
“The reality is that probably the majority of school districts, and there are more than 13,000 of them, don’t have the ability to provide continuous virtual online instruction,” Dan Domenech, executive director of the American School Superintendents Association in Alexandria, Virginia, told Bloomberg.
“This experience may accelerate virtual learning in schools, but right now it is definitely inequitable for students without internet access or a computer at home, and inequitable for the special-education population.”
With many facilities now closed to limit the spread of COVID-19, students who relied on accessing computers and the internet via their local library or community center or who relied on free public WiFi in cafes and restaurants are unable to access online learning resources.
The FBI has advised parents with children who can get online to discuss internet safety with their children and to review any games or apps before they are downloaded.
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