Schools kept safe from distractions online – N4L report

Millions of online security threats and harmful digital content are blocked across N4L’s network every day

More than 45 million potentially dangerous and distracting websites were blocked at schools every day during the second half of the 2020 school year, according to a new report released by Network for Learning (N4L), the Crown company providing safe and smart internet services to New Zealand schools and kura.

The second  N4L Te Pūrongo Whakakitenga Data & Insights Report  reviews how 855,000 students and teachers across Aotearoa’s 2450+ schools and kura used the internet for learning from July – December 2020, while noting the millions of online security threats and harmful digital content blocked across N4L’s network every day.

The report shows that as school internet use continues to climb, with a 32% jump in data consumption recorded between the first and second halves of 2020, students were also protected from a growing number of online threats (2.3 million) and unsafe websites (2.2 million) every day they were at school.

Some key areas explored in the report include:

Online threats – Nearly 1600 online threats were blocked every minute across N4L’s network and more than half of these took place at secondary schools. The most common were related to malware and malicious websites, with each school blocking an average of 500 of these every day.

Unsafe websites – Students were kept safe from harmful digital content such as extreme violence, substance abuse, and pornographic images, which represented 5% of all websites blocked across N4L’s network. These ‘safety blocks’ were also more common at secondary schools, with an average of 5.6 blocked for every secondary school student, and fewer than one blocked for each primary school student.

Social media, instant messaging and gaming – Schools are using N4L’s technology to keep students on task and away from distractions, with just over 20% of all content blocked across the network related to gaming websites. Another 14% was attributed to instant messaging and social networking sites, with the most frequently blocked instant messaging sites being Google Hangouts, Snapchat and Discord (in that order). And Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest represented the most commonly blocked social networking sites.

Streaming media – Almost a quarter of all web traffic (24%) stemmed from streaming media sites, with YouTube, Apple, Netflix, and TikTok (in that order) being the most data-hungry. However, the popular video-sharing app TikTok represented less than 1% of all streaming data on N4L’s network.

Data use – Secondary students used 2.5 times more data each day than primary school students. And students at smaller schools (fewer than 100 students) used more data than students at larger schools. Internet use across the regions varied, with students at West Coast schools using the most data each day (375 MB), which is more than twice the amount of Marlborough school students (158MB).

Browsing time – Google, Apple and Microsoft are the sites school internet users spent the most time browsing. When looking at the top 10 websites specifically related to education, the most time was spent on collaboration platforms like Hāpara Teacher Dashboard, Seesaw and Google Suite for Education. Language learning websites feature more prominently than online maths education for both primary and secondary schools.

N4L CEO Laurie Moore says schools are the largest consumers of daytime internet in the country: “Keeping schools secure and longan safe online is a considerable responsibility and requires ongoing investment, expertise, and careful vigilance. Cyber threats continue to rise globally, and New Zealand is not immune from these threats: our technology blocks more than 1500 per minute for the 2500-plus schools choosing to use N4L’s services.

“In the coming months N4L will continue to work with the Ministry of Education, schools and many technology partners to ensure schools and their learners have the protection needed to help them learn safely online regardless of where they go to school.”

Netsafe, which is hosting New Zealand’s first ever Netsafety week from July 26-30, says N4L’s report reflects the agency’s efforts: “We are continuing to see an uptick in incident reports related to harmful digital communication and objectionable content, so it’s important that N4L works with schools to block content from young eyes,” CEO Martin Cocker says.

Netsafe’s research reveals that almost 50% of teenagers have been exposed to potentially harmful content online, and that there is often a mismatch between parents’ awareness of what their kids might be seeing. Netsafe’s Online Safety Parent Toolkit helps whānau confidently speak to their children about internet activities and helps to minimise the harm they might experience.

ENDS.