Digital technology: Safe and responsible use in schools

This guide provides principals and teachers with the information to act confidently and in the best interests of students with regard to digital technology. 


Education is changing. Digital technologies are everywhere and they are impacting what, where, how and why students learn – and who they learn from. Many schools are using digital technologies like the internet, laptops and tablets to quickly, easily and cost effectively connect students with the huge range of digital services and resources.

But, the many benefits of learning with digital technologies are accompanied by some challenges and potential risks for students and schools.

These ‘digital challenges’ are real and present a dilemma to schools seeking to use digital technology to enhance student learning.

Digital challenges can be broadly categorised as:

  • cybersafety
  • cybercrime
  • cybersecurity.


Cybersafety involves conduct or behavioural concerns.

Examples include cyberbullying, smear campaigns, accessing inappropriate content, creating spoof websites or sexting.


Cybercrime involves illegal activity.

Examples include sexual offending, accessing objectionable content or online fraud.


Cybersecurity involves unauthorised access or attacks on a computer system.

Examples include hacking into someone’s social media service account, launching a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack or loading malware onto a laptop.

Strategies for digital challenges

In general, preventative approaches that rely on technical or other protections simply do not work. These methods have a role but must be balanced with strategies that promote:

  • development of skills and knowledge for safe and responsible use of digital technology
  • opportunities for students to be involved in decisions about the management of digital technology at the school
  • development of a pro-social culture of digital technology use, and
  • cooperation of the whole community in preventing and responding to incidents.

The ultimate goal is to ensure the online safety of all students.

  • Audience
    • This guide provides information about the safe and responsible use and management of digital technology for school boards, principals and staff.

      It outlines key aspects of the context surrounding the effective management of digital technology in schools and kura. The explanations provided in this guide have been written to be as accessible as possible to a non-technical audience.

  • Acknowledgements
    • We are indebted to Netsafe, who led the development of this guide on behalf of the online safety advisory group (OSAG).

      In particular, we wish to acknowledge Netsafe’s consistent focus on the positive role that safe and responsible use of digital technology can have in student learning while providing practical advice on a range of complex issues that are challenging New Zealand schools and kura.

      In addition, we are grateful for feedback from:

      • Ministry of Justice
      • New Zealand Police
      • Education Review Office 
      • Post-Primary Teachers’ Association
      • Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand
      • Office of Children’s Commissioner
      • New Zealand Association of Intermediate and Middle Schooling
      • New Zealand Principals’ Federation
      • New Zealand Trustees Association
      • Network for Learning (N4L).

      We also like to note the Office of the Privacy Commissioner’s contribution and feedback.

      This guide draws upon a range of reports, research articles and other resources. We acknowledge the contribution these materials and their authors make to this guide. References and links to these resources have been included in the appendices section.

  • Online safety advisory group
    • Patrick Walsh, SPANZ (Chair)
      David Rutherford, HRC
      Brian Coffey, MOE
      Jan Breakwell, MOE
      Phil Harding, NZPF
      Denise Torrey, NZPF
      Jenna Woolley, N4L
      Lawrie Stewart, NZ Police
      Lorraine Kerr, NZSTA
      Malcolm Luey, MOJ
      Martin Henry, PPTA
      Neil Melhuish, Netsafe
      Roly Hermans, NZ Police
      Russell Wills, OCC
      Paul Daley, SPANZ
      Sandy Pasley, SPANZ
      Stephanie Greaney, ERO
      Suzanne Townsend, HRC
      Wendy Esera, NZAIMS
      Asad Abdullahi, MOE