On October 8 2009, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) eSlovensko launched the first 4 animated stories that are at the centre of a media literacy initiative designed to raise Slovakian children's awareness about the hazards of "virtual life" - where they may reveal personal information about themselves or their families online, chat with people they do not know, and/or share sensitive photographs or videos. In an effort to prevent children from becoming victims of cyberbullying and online harassment or from being exposed to illegal or harmful content, eSlovensko is facilitating safer use of new online technologies through edutainment strategies. Aired on national television and available on YouTube in various languages, the OVCE.sk animated stories are designed primarily for young children and teens, but are also intended for their parents/care providers and teachers, many of whom are not aware of the harmful conduct of minors online or other virtual world hazards.
This series of animated stories, titled OVCE.sk (from Slovak "sheep"), that reflect inappropriate behaviour of youth in the virtual world have been developed as a resource for practical media education. The stories are set on a farm, and the main characters are small sheep, a wise shepherd, his helper, a big bad wolf, and a hunter. They combine patterns of Slovak cultural heritage with sensitive, up-to-date topics like grooming, paedophilia, racism, and xenophobia, as well as the misuse of personal information or photographs, which are dealt with in an amusing yet educational way. The story "Coatless" focuses on publishing indecent photos online; "White Sheep" focuses on discrimination and racism online; "Secret Friend" focuses on grooming and paedophilia; and "Don't Dance With the Wolf" focuses on misuse of indecent photos and videos.
The project team spent many hours in discussions with psychologists, teachers, media experts, and partners from law enforcement about the form of the educational resource. The strategy involved avoiding direct association with children; therefore, a suitable proxy solution was needed. The environment of a sheep cote (covered enclosure for sheep) was finally selected - not only because it refers to Slovak folklore but also because sheep are generally associated with flock behaviour which, metaphorically, can be attributed to people who tend to lack critical thinking. This is one of the main reasons for harmful conduct in the virtual world.
In addition to being broadcast on national TV channels during prime time, all versions are available on both the project website and YouTube. Taking into account the population of national minorities in Slovakia, the stories have been produced in the Slovak, Hungarian, and Roma languages. Prepared in cooperation with OVCE.sk's German partners, a German subtitled version is also available; based on interest from other European countries, organisers anticipate creating dubbed versions of the animated stories in some other European languages. In addition, there is a sign language version and an international version with English subtitles.
In addition to the stories, the project website offers visitors access to accompanying features such as games, cartoons, a glossary of internet terms, emoticons, and many downloadable items. OVCE.sk theme advice sheets on mobile phones, addictions, personal information, and cyberbullying have been printed on the covers of workbooks for primary schools. eSlovensko has produced DVDs containing OVCE.sk stories, which accompany a methodological handbook explaining how to work with the DVD in classrooms. In cooperation with law enforcement agencies, eSlovensko is distributing these materials as part of a "Prevention Kit" for policemen who visit pupils at their schools and give lectures on crime prevention.
With the animated stories, eSlovensko wishes to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The next batch of four OVCE.sk stories is expected to be released in September 2010.
The project is co-financed by the European Commission within the Safer Internet Programme 2005-2008 (Safer Internet Plus) and is supported by the Ministry of Interior of the Slovak Republic, the Slovak Committee for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and commercial partners.
News on Children, Youth and Media in the World No. 2, 2009, from the International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media forwarded to the Young People's Media Network (YPMN) listserv, February 11 2010; "Sheep Teach Slovak Kids to Behave Responsibly Online", by Marcela Alzin; and email from Marcela Alzin to The Communication Initiative on February 12 2010.