Online safety: Innovation Award

Kenyan community library’s online safety programme protects young internet users from harm

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A group of young adults learning online safety skills, using laptops, in Fahari Community Library.
Youth get to grips with online safety issues in Fahari Community Library.

More and more children and youth across Kenya are going online as internet infrastructure improves and connectivity and digital devices become more affordable. This is good news for digital inclusion, but the lack of digital literacy and online safety skills leaves young internet users vulnerable to threats like grooming, cyberbullying and fraud, says Eliphas Nyamogo, founder and director of Fahari Community Initiative, which runs the Fahari Community Library in Migori, Kenya.

To help children and youth to protect themselves, Fahari Community Library has launched a comprehensive digital literacy and online safety programme. 

“Our community library is like an oasis in the desert for those seeking digital access, news and information, says Joash Ochieng, the head of the library.  “The members of our community here in Kakrao Location are mostly farmers and small-scale traders. They struggle financially, and unemployment is high. Schools are under-resourced, without libraries or digital facilities. 

“As we provide free access to computers and the internet as well as several internet-based learning materials such as e-books, curriculum-based revision material and educational online games, it is important for us to equip people - and especially vulnerable children and teenagers - with digital literacy and online safety skills,”  he explains.

Training for children, teens and young adults

The library’s digital literacy and online safety programme is designed for children from three local primary schools, a secondary school in Migori County, and young adults from the Kakrao Technical and Vocational Training Centre. All the lessons take place in the library, on Saturdays and during the school holidays. Each session takes two hours, and the learners need five or six sessions to complete the training programme. 

Because the library has a limited number of computers, and to ensure there is sufficient time for practice and interaction, the library trains a maximum of 10 learners at a time. The older learners, mainly college students and young adults, are issued with certificates of attendance at the end of the training.

Since January 2022, the library has trained 85 children and young adults. Parents, caregivers and teachers are encouraged to attend some of the training sessions so that they can be sensitized to the importance of online safety, and reinforce learning at home and in schools. The digital literacy programme is also open to everyone who uses the library’s online services and needs guidance on online safety. 

‘I am now confident’

“After attending the online safety training, I'm now confident in navigating the digital world without compromising my safety or privacy. The skills I've acquired have been transformative, allowing me to use the internet productively while staying protected from potential threats,” said Peter (not his real name), a 19-year-old student at Kakrao Technical and Vocational Training College.

The programme, designed in collaboration with teachers from neighbouring schools and the technical vocational college, comprises a mixture of interactive and practical workshops, expert talks and stories for younger children. There is also a peer mentorship programme for older children and youth who are given an opportunity to become online safety mentors for younger internet users. There are currently four mentors, working as volunteers whenever they are free, helping the library to sustain the training programme. 

The curriculum covers five essential topics:

  • Understanding and Identifying Online Threats: How to recognize online predators and cyberbullying, and how to avoid and report such activities.
  • Protecting Personal Information: How to use privacy settings on social media and other platforms, and what information is safe to share online and what should be kept private.
  • Recognizing and Responding to Misinformation: Critical thinking skills to assess the credibility of online information and sources, and verification strategies and tools to confirm the authenticity of news, images and videos. 
  • Safe and Respectful Online Communication:  ‘Netiquette’ - internet etiquette, and how to report inappropriate behaviour or content on various platforms. 
  • Responsible Digital Citizenship: 
    • Respecting digital work: Older trainees, especially college students, learn about copyright, plagiarism, and respecting others' digital work and creations. 
    • Ethical Behaviour: All participants learn the principles of ethical behaviour online, including respecting others' privacy and being mindful of the permanence of online actions and words. 
    • Healthy Screen Time: Participants learn about managing screen time to maintain a balanced lifestyle, ensuring that it does not hinder physical activities or real-life social interactions. 
    • Secure Online Practices: We teach the participants basic cybersecurity practices such as creating strong passwords, recognizing phishing attempts, and using secure connections.

More public and community libraries contributing to online safety in their communities.