ICT Africa Headline News

Ensuring Safe Online Learning for Children

07 August, 2014

Source: This Day

By Sola Salako:

The risks of exposing under-age children to the Internet without adequate and effective supervision or restrictions has been a constant concern for policy makers and regulators globally.

I was a delegate at the African Dialogue on Consumer Protection, an initiative of the U.S Federal Trade Commission in 2012 and the issue of protecting underage consumers online came up as we deliberated on the speed at which access to the internet was growing on the African continent.

With the course of education growing so heavily dependent on technology, parents, guardians and governments are left with little choice but to take IT as a serious platform to improve the quality of learning and content of education for their children and wards. However, most parents are wary of the limitless access to illicit and undesirable content on the web thus, while desirous of giving their young ones adequate exposure to the boundless opportunities the online community offers, the risks of online stalkers, pedophiles, and the distractions caused by games, social media and adult activities make them reluctant to grant their kids unfettered access to telecommunication devices, especially anything with access to the internet.

There were concerns that the more technology spreads especially among the underage demography, the higher the vulnerability of that group to exploitation, abuse and overload of inappropriate information from that platform. The conference concluded that there was a need to encourage telecommunications service providers to consider developing a special SIM exclusively for the underage market which will restrict access on the internet to wholesome sites thus ensuring the safety and protection of children on the internet.

It was thus a pleasant surprise for me when I was invited to review the recently launched Etisalat Cliqlite Package. Cliqlite is a special product from Etisalat targeted at the pre-teen market from ages 8-15 years. The features of Cliqlite can be grouped into two: security and education. For security, the Cliqlite package has voice and data access like a regular etisalat line but it restricts the kind of sites that a pre-teen can browse thus ensuring that the internet access is utilized only for wholesome purposes. With Cliqlite, every parent can be assured that their pre-teen is safe online; no more unfettered access to illicit content! For me, that is the most striking feature of the package.

To provide additional security, Cliqlite can be programmed to screen incoming calls to the child's number. If the parent has an Etisalat line, all calls to the child's phone will be routed to the parent's line first, so you can screen and then forward to the pre-teen if the parent so wishes. That way, a parent can monitor who calls their children, why and when. You can also block unwanted numbers from accessing your child's phone. Great news!

Cliqlite can also serve as a locator device with the Etisalat "Find Me" feature as parents can confirm the location of their wards just by sending a text periodically to the SIM, a very useful tool in these worrisome times of child kidnapping and general insecurity. For people like me who have been concerned about the growing trend of giving mobile phones to children as young as 5years old, knowing those children are not able to make necessary value judgments to protect themselves from predators, this special product seem to allay those concerns as the inherent dangers are grossly reduced with these features.

To encourage its Cliqlite consumers to munch more data than voice, Etisalat offers a 100% bonus on any data package activated on the SIM. For instance, if you pay for 200mb data on the Cliqlite SIM, your child or ward will receive a bonus of 200mb free thus getting more data to browse, download, read and generally surf the internet.

For education, Etisalat Cliqlite provides free access to multiple local and international education and learning websites including past questions for JAMB, WAEC, IGCSE, NECO and other external examinations so students can practice before sitting for them. It also grants access to core subject syllabus and tutorials with audio visual features for Nigerian schools from primary to junior and senior secondary schools.

To make access to all these benefits affordable, you can either buy a Cliqlite SIM card at N150 to use on any android phone of your choice, or you can buy the Cliqlite phone at N5000. However, to enjoy the full range of benefits available on the package, the Cliqlite Tab is your best option. The tab comes loaded with educational games even for younger children, offline access to Okada books, a website with thousands of books for leisure reading, interactive tutorials on Maths, Science and an Index of all English idioms as well as many more educational resources to engage your child productively.

The Cliqlite tab also comes with the additional security feature of Norton family which allows the parent to set house rules for the usage of the tab e.g. when the tab switches on and off during weekdays, weekends and holidays, what kind of content the child can access online (this is in addition to the restrictions already available on the SIM). All these special features are in addition to regular content available on any tablet which can be used by adults once the restrictions are edited, making the Cliqlite tablet a long term investment which is configurable for the various stages of your child's educational development.

While Etisalat Cliqlite is a pioneering product targeted at a market segment in need of attention, some issues still require fine tuning to ensure maximum customer satisfaction. One of such is the fact that the most desirable online restriction is only activated on the SIM and on the cliqlite tab. If the child can access the internet using Wi-Fi, it bypasses the SIM card/Tab and its restrictions. This makes the SIM card only and or the Cliqlite Tab only partially effective in restricting children from unwholesome content via Wi-Fi. Parents cannot abandon their vigilance to technology alone as the parental control on the SIM and Tab are good innovations to support already vigilant parents.

The Cliqlite tab however has additional Norton Family protection pre-installed so access through Wi-Fi can also be restricted. One hopes Etisalat will also pre-install the Norton Family protection on the Cliqlite phone and encourage parents who buy the SIM pack only, to download the free Norton Family app from Google Store unto the android phone they choose, so additional protection can be available for Wi-Fi access option also.

Setting up and managing the Cliqlite package for a child can be quite challenging for parents who are not technology savvy as it requires multiple processes, signing up for various accounts and knowing what to click to achieve a desired action. As it is usual in the Nigerian market, the operational manual in the Cliqlite tablet is of little help. Etisalat needs to design an easy, pictorial manual that shows steps and actions in a simple format that will make the device more user friendly, encourage DIY (Do It Yourself) for majority of parents who are not technology savvy but are literate enough to follow simple instructions. However, I advise interested parents to ensure the product is properly set up, registered and activated by one of the geeks you find at the point of purchase. That was what I did!

As useful and productive as the Cliqlite package can be, it should not take over the parenting role in a child's life. Cliqlite to me is a tool to enhance the parent's efforts at parenting, learning and education and it will require active participation from parents to monitor and ensure that children are getting the best from the package by making learning fun, engaging and interactive.

Putting a tool like Cliqlite in the hands of a child is one giant step towards preparing them to be competitive in their generation. Any parent, guardian or government that makes that investment is creating the future. One hopes that Etisalat will keep improving on the product to ensure it adds more value and I look forward to a package targeted at the teacher who is also an integral part of the learning process.It is also expected that the tariff on a package like Cliqlite should be the cheapest possible considering that it is for children, a non-productive segment of the economy thus an extra drain on the family purse.

My Verdict: For blazing the trail to provide children with a telecom product that seeks to protect them from harm while harnessing the power of technology to their learning advantage, Etisalat scores an A in consumer sensitivity with me. Let's hope the after sales consumer experience will authenticate my rating. We need more innovation from service providers in every sector that will address specific challenges in various market segments like Etisalat has done with Cliqlite. I will be glad to review them too so, as consumers, we can make informed decisions.

Sola Salako is a Consumer Rights and Protection Advocate and President of Consumer Advocacy Foundation of Nigeria (CAFON

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