How a safe space to practice online activities and interactions is key for helping children be savvy a digital citizens, from Manjit Sareen and Caroline Allams

1.Please can you tell us a little about both of you, including your current roles?​

Manjit: “Some years ago, after a period of being a stay-athome mum, I was looking for a mission-led business to get involved in. My background is in renewable energy and property but after having children, I wanted to do something in the education space that could impact their lives and futures. When my husband overheard Caroline talking about her idea for ‘social media education,’ I was instantly interested. I didn’t know how we were going to do it, but I knew we had to! It’s been such a rollercoaster journey to get to this point, but we’re so grateful. My role, in addition to managing the dayto- day running of the business, also consists of overseeing its strategic development and driving partnerships, growth and finance.”

Caroline: “I have an education background and oversee the educational content and creative direction of Natterhub. I first had the idea years ago when it struck me that in all other facets of child development where there is a potential risk, there’s a training package associated with it – swimming lessons, learning to ride a bike, crossing the road – yet, when it came to screens, we just ‘let’ children go online! I’ve always been interested in immersive or experiential learning, so I know how motivating it is for pupils to be working on ‘real’ scenarios.”

2. What is Natterhub? And how did it all start?​

Manjit: Natterhub is a gated, educational online safety platform for primary schools. Essentially, it’s the education that young people need before they become digitally independent. With over 350 interactive lessons, assessments and quizzes inside the tool, it’s a whole-school solution for teaching media literacy and online safety. Caroline had initially drafted the concept as a huge far-reaching system, so together we have honed the idea to be what was our first MVP (Minimum Viable Product). Once we launched, we developed the platform according to our users’ needs. We work hard to provide a tool for teachers and pupils that is well designed, easy to use and creates real impact.

3. Caroline, you previously worked in education. Could you tell us about that?

Caroline: “I have over 12 years of school experience in the UK, Amsterdam, Barcelona – and senior management in an international school in Hong Kong. I am passionate about education and how it can shape children’s lives, especially pastoral education and the importance of social and emotional development. I’ve been lucky enough to work in some incredible schools, but I particularly enjoyed the international environment because of the autonomy and professionalism awarded to teachers.

“I always sought to be a champion for the children I taught – perhaps because my sibling struggled with being neurodiverse at a time when ADHD wasn’t understood. It meant that I always had empathy with children who might not fit into a certain way of learning and I enjoyed finding ways to connect with them or engage them via a different method. I loved working with parents too; the triangular approach (teacher child-parent) for creating impact can only benefit the child so, whether addressing behavioural issues, learning difficulties or offering emotional support, having a positive partnership with parents makes a massive difference.”

4. Please tell us why e-safety is such an important topic

Manjit: “We’re all so heavily dependent on technology, and digital communication is probably the most prevalent form of communication for young people. If we all agree that children are digital ‘by default,’ then young people have a right to have the skills and knowledge to navigate themselves safely online. But we don’t think it’s enough to simply be safe online, we want to be the industry leaders promoting the notion that children have the right to thrive online.”

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has exacerbated online vulnerability and in addition to all the frightening statistics on grooming and trolling, the Internet Watch Foundation has published results of an alarming increase in self-generated imagery. The age where they are seeing the biggest rise in this behaviour is girls aged 7-11 – primary school children.”

5.What is working well in the education sector and what could be improved?

Caroline: I think we’re overdue a subject hierarchy reshuffle! If we are to properly prepare children in the digital age, then we must reposition digital skills and media literacy so that our young people can use technology to their advantage, rather than be driven by it or use it simply as a consumer. We need to give children the ability to creatively embed technology to enhance their learning – and teachers need the chance to upskill and use it in their teaching so that school experiences are relevant and forward-thinking.

“We are delighted that the now-compulsory Relationships and Sex Eduction (RSE) includes aspects of online safety, but it might not be enough. For our youngest children, learning to communicate digitally, in an abstract space, needs to be made tangible so that they can perceive the potential risks, understand the importance of empathy, take responsibility for their own actions online and navigate themselves safely.”

6.You mentioned before e-safety content isn’t always aimed at the Primary sector. Could you tell us about the key skills that need to be covered in Primary and how to embed them in young learners?

Caroline: “When we first started researching for Natterhub, quite a few people asked us why we were focused on primary and not secondary. As a primary teacher, I understand the importance and impact of early intervention. With children living in a digital age, we must teach the necessary soft skills so that when they venture online unaided, they are equipped and ready for what they will inevitably encounter.

Teachers are expected to develop pupils’ personal and social skills in a face-to-face scenario but when we consider that pupils spend so much of their time, certainly outside of school, living with, and through a screen, we need to prepare them for this world.

And our experience is that children don’t naturally transfer these soft skills to the digital space. Some even presume that different rules apply. Therefore, we must extend our ‘be kind and respectful’ conversations to the online environment. This needs explicitly modelling for children, just as it does face to face.

7.Could you tell us why young learners need to learn to tackle online risks and how this can be done in a safe environment?

Manjit: We know that children learn through doing. Exploring an immersive environment has more impact than hearing their teacher tell them not to click on buttons on the internet and not to talk to strangers online. That’s why we created Natterhub to look and feel like a real social media environment, but it’s gated to the school so it’s safe for children to explore, practise and even make mistakes. This makes our approach unique in that sense; we are the first company to offer this ‘play space’ for primary schools so they can understand the nuance and the genre of digital communication. When children leave school and go home every night, they sit on games and platforms and communicate with players from all over the world, so we must give them the skills to be positive digital citizens. They need to be aware of warning signs when someone has overstepped the mark and to act on or report something that makes them feel uncomfortable.

8.You mentioned that Natterhub can help with media literacy and digital communication. Can you tell us more?

Caroline: “Our lessons require children to make decisions about different online scenarios. Using a chat function and news feed means that pupils are using the genre of social media to learn about social media – the whole experience is immersive and offers so many learning opportunities for the teachers. We’ve made them prescriptive enough for teachers hesitant about teaching this subject (they can simply read the script) or for those more confident, they have the flexibility to think creatively based on where their children are. It was always our intention to build a tool that can be adapted to suit different schools’ contexts and cohorts.

“Natterhub not only enables teachers to model acceptable use of technology and teach what positive posts are, but children also learn how to respond to each other’s posts and understand that what they write has an impact on someone’s emotions and feelings. We have built a ‘fake profile’ system that allows teachers to post a scenario onto the news feed and then children can offer their voice in tackling this in a safe space. This is very empowering for children and scaffolds their response when it happens in real life.”

9.How can organisations support schools to help pupils to ‘thrive online’?

Manjit: “Some incredible organisations have been created in response to the pandemic. We’re part of the Laptops for Kids movement, providing schools with devices to close the digital divide. It would be great to have more organisations helping children in deprived areas with grants or sponsorships to get Natterhub to as many children as possible. We know there is a correlation between vulnerable children offline and online vulnerability, so anything that helps us to further reach these children. We believe that some of the larger organisations could even offer to provide online safety for schools. A headteacher said to us that ‘online vulnerability is the new head lice in schools’! He has been a headteacher for twenty years and head lice was always the perennial bad penny but now, every few days he is dealing with an issue stemming from online happenings. Organisations can help raise the profile of tech skills and demand that children leave schools with a deeper understanding of real-life digital competencies.”

10.How can educators help young learners develop digital empathy?

Caroline: “By making it clear that kindness needs to be extended into the digital world. Whenever educators talk about respect and open-mindedness, empathy and manners, include digital scenarios too because they needs to be pulled into the everyday important conversations that teachers have with young children.”

11. What do you think are some common misconceptions about online learning?

Caroline: “I think that it’s easy to presume that children transfer their social and emotional intelligence to the online setting. Even after all the remote learning that happened very quickly during the lockdowns, teachers were still not given the green light to necessarily teach children about online safety, even though children were being asked to spend way more time on screens.”

Manjit: “Children are naturally curious and are usually online away from the gaze of an adult. We must open up the channels of communication as much as possible so that young people feel they can have a dialogue about their screen-based experiences. If this does not start when they are young, it’s far harder to suddenly ask a 14-year-old about what they are doing on social media. And when you think about having to talk to young people about porn, sexting and unwanted contact, it makes the conversations almost impossible if they are not used to sharing their digital lives with a parent or carer.”

12.Could you tell us about the assessment system on Natterhub and how this relates to a school’s curriculum?

Manjit: “We’re excited about this new addition to the tool. Teachers can commit to different programs based on the time they have available to dedicate to online safety and media literacy. The tool will create a balanced scheme of work based on their chosen timings and show which curriculum targets are being met. When lessons are completed, the data is presented to the teacher so they can see exactly where their children are at and what they have achieved. We’re also building a data collection point for senior leaders to collectively see how their schools are performing.”

Caroline: “Because we’re so interested in soft skill development, our badge system allows teachers to award badge power for positive digital communication, sharing learning, being kind, demonstrating digital resilience and for being a good digital citizen.”

13.What’s next for Natterhub?

Manjit: “We’re on a mission to reach as many schools and educate as many children as possible. We know that what our tool teaches is too important to be a ‘nice to have’. Natterhub is what is needed before children venture unaided onto the internet. We know that parents need so much more support too. In addition to the Natterhub parent login, we will be offering more information and ideas for parents to be more confidently involved in keeping their children safe online. Using the trusted triangular method means that impact is greater and children are safer. At the end of the day, we all need to talk more to children about being online.”

Authors

  • Caroline Allams

    Caroline is Natterhub’s Co-founder and experienced educator, having taught in both UK and leading international schools. Passionate about immersive learning that creates impact for students, Caroline leads the product development, creative and pedagogy for the Natterhub brand. As founder of the award-winning brand The Pedagogs, Caroline, also a parent, initiated and designed the concept for Natterhub in a bid to prepare children to thrive in a blended digital world.
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  • Manjit Sareen

    Manjit is Natterhub’s co-founder and CEO. She’s an ambitious, driven, and enthusiastic entrepreneur who is passionate about making a difference to the lives of children via the education space. Manjit leads the strategic growth for Natterhub and acquired sister company The Pedagogs in 2018.

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