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TTUTA President Antonia De Freitas

The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association (TTUTA) is concerned that hackers and online predators now have a larger playing field at their fingertips as online platforms have replaced physical classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic,

And with more reach to corrupt impressionable minds now, TTUTA fears those predators could do irreparable harm to some.

TTUTA president Antonia Tekah-De Freitas made the comment yesterday after Tobago East MP Ayanna Webster-Roy vented her anger on Facebook after her daughter’s Bishop’s Anstey High School online Zoom class was disrupted by a display of pornographic material.

“Hackers are taking the opportunity to build their capacity to do what they want to do. They might perceive us as hostages based on the prevailing circumstances, so they can decide what they want to do,” Tekah-De Freitas.

Webster-Roy took to Facebook to point out that yesterday was not the first time such an event had happened. The same thing happened to another of her daughters, she said.

“Forgive my rant post this morning, but some parents need to get a grip of their children. My daughters have both experienced interrupted online classes because some child either putting up pornography on the shared screen or playing hard porn movies in the background so that the entire classroom is disrupted! I don’t know about some of you all parents, but you see me, I want my children to learn eh!”

Tekah-De Freitas said the incident reinforced the urgent need for increased cybersecurity during online sessions with students.

“It means that if we are using platforms other than what was specifically developed, it would mean that we have to look at additional security measures and it could mean that the Cyber Crimes Unit of the TTPS would need to become involved,” she said.

De-Freitas said some teachers’ information is also being accessed by hackers and other individuals.

“I was told that a teacher using What’sApp in this case, because she has been sharing her phone number with parents and was not accustomed to before, she has been getting all kinds of obscene phone calls. Another was using the broadcast method and similarly, she has been receiving pornographic videos.”

She said TTUTA had circulated a Work From Home policy yesterday in which they advised teachers to be more careful with their online activity.

“When TTUTA developed the Work From Home Guidelines which we began circulating today (yesterday) and which we handed the Minister of Education, we advised the teachers to be very careful of how they were projecting and broadcasting information from out of their homes and simply, to caution students about what they were projecting,” she said.

“An ideal situation in TTUTA’s view is for parents to first give permission for the interaction to take place and the parents to monitor students interaction.

“As we become accustomed to this particular modality, we are realising there are security challenges.”

She said while the guidelines offer teachers some form of protection, it does not offer similar protection to students which means, “whatever platform is being utilised, we must examine the security measures that are going to be in place.”

National Parent Teacher Association (NPTA) acting president Clarence Mendoza also endorsed TTUTA’s call for additional cybersecurity during online teaching and learning sessions, adding parents needed to pay greater attention to both their conduct and the material being accessed, viewed and posted by their children.

He said they were told of an incident last week in which a parent was inappropriately dressed while a student was online and could have been seen by the teacher and those participating in the session.

Mendoza said, “We are appealing to parents to monitor their children while they are online. There are a lot of safety and security concerns regarding paedophiles out here right now, and we are asking the Ministry of Education, along with their IT technicians, must monitor the safety systems that are supposed to be in place on their systems. To teachers, check out the links you are using as hackers are out now unchecked.”

He too called for the TTPS Cyber Crime Unit to become move involved.