Safe on the web
In just a few months, a school club managed to teach over two hundred rural children the fundamentals of cybersecurity and media literacy.
Dilnaz Shalabaeva, 16, talked to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) about her experience participating in the volunteer project QauipsizInternet, stating, “I used to share my geolocation on Instagram on a regular basis without realizing that it reveals a lot about you and your place of residence. Now, I’ve stopped using this function altogether.” Dilnaz was one of 150 children who participated in a joint UNICEF and National Volunteer Network initiative aimed at teaching schoolchildren essential cybersecurity and media literacy skills.
According to a recent survey conducted with support from the Ministry of Education, teenagers in Kazakhstan tend not to view the virtual space as threatening. The survey indicated that almost half of respondents “explained their disregard for online safety by claiming that they have nothing to hide.” During her lessons, Dilnaz emphasized to her students that they “cannot disclose their personal data anywhere and should never trust strangers on the internet.”
“We decided to reinforce the information with examples and share our own experiences with students to make the session more engaging” Dilnaz notes.
She recalls how her friend recounted a personal story about falling for a scam where fraudsters impersonated her bank’s security service and, as a result, she lost money. During the final part of the session, the students worked in groups to discuss other problematic situations and identify mistakes using hypotheticals.
Dilnaz worked along with a team of other volunteers. She first learned about UNICEF volunteer projects two years ago and, as a 14-year-old, participated in the BeKind initiative. This time, she approached the task more seriously. At her school club’s annual meeting, she presented her own volunteer club in conjunction with the QauipsizInternet project. “Initially, over 50 people signed up, which made me very happy! But in the end, only 29 students applied for the program, and we worked together for four months,” she says.
During this time and under Dilnaz’s leadership, the team conducted 16 lessons for over two hundred students in Grades 5 to 11. Most lessons were held online to accommodate those living in rural areas of Akmola Oblast. Dilnaz maintained regular contact with four schools throughout the initiative.
The students showed genuine interest in the content. “They asked various questions from ‘what is cybersecurity?’ and ‘can you give us a brief explanation of cybersecurity?’. We always tried to provide the students with correct answers and be patient. We also sent the presentation to our students so that they could review it and find answers to their questions,” says Dilnaz. She also encouraged the students to discuss what they learned with their loved ones “to promote a safe cybersociety.” After the lessons, schoolteachers expressed their gratitude to the volunteers.
While on vacation, Dilnaz introduced the project’s content to her grandparents. Additionally, her volunteer club piqued the interest of her classmates who were not involved in the project. “They wanted to understand what we were doing, and their interest enabled us to explain the basic rules [of cybersecurity and media literacy] to others and spread awareness,” notes the volunteer.
Prior to the project, Dilnaz had several gaps in her understanding of online security, which she filled through the volunteer workshops. In addition to the project’s main subject, she acquired other valuable skills. “I particularly enjoyed the class led by Vladimir Aleksanin, where he taught me how to communicate effectively with children. He demonstrated how to make the lessons engaging and, most importantly, educational for everyone,” she says. Dilnaz also found the training on speech techniques organized for the coordinators to be highly beneficial.
“I need to be aware of the shortcomings in my speech so that I can avoid repeating them and deliver more effective instructions during my lessons,” says Dilnaz.
She has no doubt that there will be more lessons in the future. She is already preparing for the second instalment of “QauipsizInternet” and is eager to talk about her plans. “My priorities are to conduct lessons in my school and then to organize various activities related to cybersecurity as well as invite experts to speak,” she says.
Moreover, Dilnaz intends to organize trainings and activities on other topics based on publications from additional UNICEF volunteer projects. “I believe that, in this way, our club will positively influence our school community,” she notes. She sees clear advantages to peer-to-peer training. “When my peers explain things to me, I sometimes understand more than when I interact with teachers who are 30 to 40 years older than me,” Dilnaz notes.
She acknowledges that volunteering is not only a “service to society” but also an opportunity to boost her personal growth. “It is a truly enriching experience that brings joy to my life. Volunteering has taught me many skills,” Dilnaz reflects on her work. She adds that her passion for volunteering has grown with each new project. “Now, at 16, I served as a coordinator for the first time. What will happen when I turn 18? I don’t know, but I will certainly do my best to progress and reach new heights,” Dilnaz pledges.
Dilnaz firmly believes that parents have a responsibility to ensure their children’s online safety. She warns that it is crucial to make children aware of numerous online threats, such as cyberstalking and catfishing, before the age of 16. “But since parents may not fully comprehend the potential risks, volunteer programs like QauipsizInternet play a significant role in promoting digital literacy. I believe that such projects make our society better,” concludes Dilnaz.
 Cyberstalking refers to the act of persistent and unwanted online harassment or stalking by an individual or group.
Catfishing is a type of online fraud where a person, known as a ‘catfish,’ creates a fake online identity or profile on social networking or dating sites to deceive or defraud unsuspecting victims.
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In 2022, UNICEF in Kazakhstan, in collaboration with its partners, launched several initiatives aimed at promoting online safety for children. A comprehensive study using the international ‘Global Kids Online’ methodology is underway to better understand the existing online risks for children in the country. Additionally, volunteers are teaching students in over 40 schools across Kazakhstan to understand the fundamentals of online behavior, recognize various types of risks, and protect personal data among other things. The educational process is organized through a partnership with the National Volunteer Network (https://qazvolunteer.kz/ru/about). An online educational course on online safety and digital literacy for parents and teachers is being developed in collaboration with International University of Information Technologies (Almaty).