Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air
Former All Black wing Doug Howlett is helping Auckland primary school children stay safe online through a new online portal called Cybersmarties.
Introduced from Ireland where it was developed in 2015, Cybersmarties helps to introduce primary school children to the world of social media in a protected, safe environment.
This enables them to learn the key skills in how to interact with others in a positive way when they start using adult social Networks.
“We actually provide a safe digital environment where children can practise and rehearse and make mistakes in a friendly environment around communicating with their friends, making posts, talking to the school while being monitored by artificial intelligence but also a human monitoring team,” Howlett says.
The former professional rugby player and proud Tongan says he came across the platform while he was playing in Ireland.
“I lived in Ireland for 12 years you know so this is a technology that’s available globally it’s an Irish technology which I had the benefit of seeing first hand,” he says.
“The founder is a friend of mine in Ireland, we’re a global associate of UNICEF foundation so we do a lot of work with UNICEF globally.
“I know this product works and I’ve seen it work in different locations around the world; Ireland, turkey, India and others and I want to see that protection extended to New Zealand.”
At Rosebank School in Auckland, students there have already been tapping into it.
One of the year six students says, “I like it because it’s cool to communicate with your friends and it’s just you and your friends or your classmates and connecting to each other.”
Another in year five says, “I enjoy that, like, every time when you log on there’s someone. The bot lady, she always asks if we are doing well and if we are sad of something and she finds ways to cheer us up with feedbacks from our friends.”
The school’s deputy principal, Kelly Fitzjames, says it’s a relief having the platform to help teachers as they can’t always monitor when students are online.
“A lot of kids these days, too easy to get on to Facebook, Instagram and TikTok and they really don’t know who they are talking to where this platform is nice and safe. It’s only within our kura so they can talk to their classmates when we move forward to the rest of the school.” she says.
Cybersmarties was introduced to Aotearoa in March this year and 14 schools have signed up already.
Cybersmarties operations manager Mervyn Mckay says all the data that they receive goes back to the school and they do not collect it.
“None of it is kept with us, we don’t sell it, it’s all kept with the school and when the school wants that information, wants that data it goes back to them so we don’t store or keep everything or use it for any other purposes just for the schools.”
The goal for Howlett is to make Cybersmarties available at all schools around the country. Making sure our children are safe on and off line.
“The end game here is that all children in New Zealand have access to our platform, can use this as a stepping stone to learn make mistakes because it will be a safe environment because we will make sure it is before they go into some of these bigger platforms.”