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Primary School Students Will Be Taught PR To Protect Their Online Reputations

Australian students are getting a crash course in public relations -- so what they post online now, won't sting them later.

Year six students at a NSW Central Coast primary school will soon begin a pilot program designed to teach them how best to represent themselves online.

The course will address what it means to create, sustain and even destroy a positive reputation online -- from how you speak in public forums, to which photos you post and what information you give away.

"The internet's been around a long time," Principal at Holy Cross Catholic Primary School, Craig McNee told 10 daily.

"But I don't think adults now were given the tools to be able to cope with it. I think by being proactive we can promote the positive side [of the Internet] and protect our children."

Image: Getty

Today, children often begin to cultivate digital footprints long before they're aware of just how long Google remembers what you've done.

According to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, as many as 95 percent of those aged eight to 11 are accessing the internet, with nearly half active on social media.

READ MORE: How Do We Stop Cyber-Bullying In Our Schools?

It's a trend that isn't likely to change, PR expert and course designer Nicole Reaney said.

"There's been a lot of negatives in relation to it but I saw a positive aspect to the shift," the Inside Out PR Director told 10 daily.

"So rather than focus the conversation on the technology itself, move the conversation to how can we empower children to foster a positive reputation."

During the program, Reaney will teach 40 students how to reduce "reputational risk" by addressing the dos and don'ts of online interaction.

This includes outlining what images and words can be taken out of context, which actions and behaviours lead to a positive reputation, and the concept of building a personal brand -- an area typically reserved for tertiary education.

The lessons will be interactive and personal, so as to keep it at a level students will understand.

"It's almost like the sex ed of this generation," she said.

"It's about fostering that clean and positive digital footprint early on and that does lead to everything from friendships to better success at school, wellbeing, through to gaining their first job when they're a little bit older as well."

READ MORE: Banning Phones In Schools 'Not The Answer' To Tackling Cyber Bullying

McNee said his students are excited, ready and willing for the experience, while their parents are also onboard.

"Responses [to the permission letter] seemed to be in line with the time it took to read the letter...coming back yes, yes, yes, yes straight away," he said.

Image: Getty

Reaney will also cover with the children their behaviour offline in an effort to address bullying and promote cyber-safety.

While bullying was once confined to classrooms and playgrounds, social media has successfully brought the problem into students' homes.

In October of last year, the NSW government introduced new laws to keep those who stalk or intimidate using modern technology behind bars for up to five years. The changes were a response to the growing trend of threats and harassment via social media.

"People use technology all the time but sometimes it's just not used in a positive light," McNee said.

"I think being proactive, we can promote the positive side and protect our children."