Teaching children about the internet should be as important as the three Rs, with youngsters given the skills to keep safe online, a committee of peers has recommended.
The House of Lords Communications Committee also warned that self-regulation online was failing and suggested the Government should consider forcing major industry players to sign up to a code of conduct if they refuse to comply with child-friendly standards.
A new internet tsar – the children’s digital champion – should be appointed to co-ordinate action across government and stand up to the industry, the cross-party panel said.
Setting out its call for “digital literacy” to form a key part of the curriculum, the peers said “online responsibilities, social norms and risks” should be included in mandatory, Ofsted-inspected personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons.
The committee’s report said: “It is no longer sufficient to teach digital skills in specialist computer science classes to only some pupils.
“We recommend that digital literacy sit alongside reading, writing and mathematics as the fourth pillar of a child’s education; and that no child should leave school without a well-rounded understanding of the digital world.”
The report said internet companies should face new legal requirements on measures to protect children if necessary.
An industry summit convened by Prime Minister Theresa May should establish “minimu m standards and a code of conduct based on the desires of children, teachers and parents as well as the commercial needs of the companies”.
“The Government should apply existing legal measures rigorously and be prepared to propose new legislation in the face of noncompliance with the new code of conduct,” the peers said.
The committee recommended that all internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile networks should be required not only to offer filters to prevent access to adult material but for them to be switched on by default – requiring users to actively choose to disable them to view material unsuitable for youngsters.
Children should also be supported in efforts to get “upsetting” content about themselves removed from the internet.
The report said firms such as Google and Facebook “should respond quickly to requests by children to take down content”.
Referring to evidence from internet safety minister Baroness Shields, Committee chairman Lord Best said: “In the past 20 years, the internet has become an all-encompassing aspect of growing up. One minister described this as ‘almost the largest social experiment in history’.
“It is in the whole of society’s interest that children grow up to be empowered, digitally confident citizens. This is a shared responsibility for everyone, it is essential that we improve opportunities for children to use the internet productively; improve digital literacy; change the norms of data collection and to design technology in ways that support children by default.
“We believe that children must be treated online with the same rights, respect and care that has been established through regulation in offline settings such as television and gambling.
“The Government’s internet safety strategy is a welcome start in addressing many of the dangers children are faced with online but action must be broader than a focus on preventing harms, and it must be sustained in the long-term.”