Established in September 2014, Safa Community School is a young school that has gone from strength to strength. Having won the Best New School Award at the Top School Awards in 2019, it has since grown in reputation as one of the finest English-speaking schools in Dubai.
This dedication to excellence is also clearly evidenced by Safa Community’s Head of Digital Learning and E-Safety, Andrew Dickinson. In a recent video interview, the NOS team spoke to Mr. Dickinson about his hard work around online safety, which has subsequently resulted in a Certified School accreditation for the school.
Staying ahead of the curve
According to Mr. Dickinson, teaching children how to use technology safely is a foundational part of the Computing curriculum at Safa Community School.
“My biggest passion as a computing teacher is online safety,” He said.
“I feel like that’s what we need to be teaching the children first – before everything else! You can teach your children how to code and programme, but if they’re not doing it in a safe environment, in a safe way, what’s the point? You may as well not be doing it at all.”
Just one example of the brilliant work from Safa Community students
He went on to explain how the school refreshes this foundation each year, in order to stay up-to-date with technological advancements and trends.
“During the first six weeks of each year, we always teach online safety as a standalone curriculum.
“Then we go from there, and we teach the modules of computing that you would normally teach. But for six weeks – for key stage two mostly, key stage one and FS get their own sessions throughout the year – they do get 6 weeks of dedicated online safety training about different areas and what they may be using.
“Every year we have to change it, this year more than ever - because our children are on devices more than ever.”
A growing phenomenon
Use of social media, smartphones and other devices is now a significant part of life for children and young people, especially in the UAE. By staying up-to-date, Mr. Dickinson argues that the staff at Safa Community School are helping children to combat issues that they may come face-to-face with on any given day.
“I think the biggest thing for us has been reflection - to look at trying to stay one step ahead.” He explained.
“The NOS guides are incredibly helpful for that: before we signed up for The National Online Safety website, I used the free guides anyway, downloaded them every week, and I use them as part of the weekly Online Safety Wakelet which I put together.
“Anything that I think goes with our digital policy and digital safety, I include on there, and I put it at the bottom of my emails and send it out to parents to keep them in the know. This is especially useful for something like Fortnite for instance, which is huge over here at the minute, as parents might not be aware of what things are, this allows them to understand a bit more about it using the guide.”
“I think, over here, there’s a lot more social media use from young children. In the UK, it seemed to be that some have it and some don’t, but over here there are a lot of students which have it - I think that’s another thing that we need to keep an eye on moving forward.”
This is not to say that the staff at Safa Community see technology as a bad thing. As a school that has recently introduced a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) policy for sanitary reasons, Safa community is far from shy when it comes to rolling out new methods of tech-heavy teaching and learning. A crucial part of this, according to Mr. Dickinson, is knowing how to protect the students that use it.
“We had to change a lot due to school closures, and obviously with BYOD we had to change a lot in that aspect too, so it was a double-header.” He explained.
“We had to give some children, younger than when we would normally give them, emails, so we had to look at teaching them online safety with emails as well.
“We’re a Gmail school, and we start from as young as year four, even looking at year three now, to give them email access so teachers can email them a bit more and share links with them in Google classroom.
“But obviously with that, we then encounter problems: we can give them emails, but then we need to teach them how to use them. A lot of people think you can do that in an hour, but I say no – it takes about three lessons to teach them how to use an email properly, safely and securely!”
Sharing knowledge across the community
By being available 24/7, National Online Safety has allowed schools like Safa Community school to shine a light on specific online safety issues all year round. This often ties in with national or international awareness events – like an anti-bullying week, which took place in November 2020.
In light of this, Mr. Dickinson explained how the school used these resources to promote a strong anti-bullying message.
“We ran a special event called ‘Be a Buddy, Not a Bully’ in line with the KHDA scheme- which is all to do with online safety, kindness and cyberbullying.
“We tied it in with the first week we used NOS, so everything the children were using – like Oscars Adventure – and all the information videos the teachers really embraced it, which I think speaks volumes.”
A poster for the anti-bullying campaign that took Safa Community by storm a few weeks ago
He also said that the staff had been keen to take on National Online Safety training - without much encouragement – and the response has been overwhelmingly positive from both parents and staff.
“This week for staff CPD we rolled out the NOS annual teacher course – so far we’ve had six or seven people completing it, and by the end of the week it’ll be 70 staff who have finished it.” He said.
“There’s been great feedback already. I know our safeguarding team are currently completing the safeguarding courses as well, and I’ve done the lead ICT course, the safeguarding course and the teacher one too, just to get a good idea of the course material.
“You can easily get it knocked out over a cup of coffee. We’ve really gone for it – rolling stuff out to kids, teachers and parents, with over 50 odd parents signed up this week, and all it took was a simple email!”
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