Government anti-coronavirus measures imposed this year mean that children of all ages in Germany are currently being taught from home via distance learning programmes.
But incidents have come to light in several states in which primary school children have suddenly seen images of naked adults or pornographic footage during a class.
In Mainburg, Lower Bavaria, an eight-year-old was shown pictures of a naked man during an online lesson. In Florstadt, Hesse, an unknown hacker showed pornography to a second grade class.
Meanwhile, third graders in Berlin watched a porn video for several minutes during a similar incident.
Teachers associations have voiced concerns about the impact the images could have on young children.
“No matter how open-minded a child’s upbringing is, it is a shock situation when, in the protected space of school they suddenly have such an encounter,” said Simone Fleischmann, president of the Bavarian Teachers' Association.
“This is a new danger for teaching,” she added.
Christian Schorr of the Bavarian Cybercrime Central Office said that the culprits were often other pupils who had noticed that a teacher had failed to make access to the class private.
“With many of the tools that schools use, it's enough to know the link,” Schorr said. “If you then get into the chat with a simple click, the temptation to get up to some harmless or not so harmless mischief is great.”
But he said that pranksters should be aware that showing pornography to young children is a serious crime. “When kids are confronted with sexual content, this can be considered sexual abuse,” he warned.
Catching the perpetrators “depends on what is available in terms of logs, in terms of access files or whether the individual platform is recording where that access came from,” Schorr said.
Teachers' associations are now demanding that data protection-compliant, legally secure and well-protected platforms be made available by Germany's ministries of education.
Martin Löwe of the Bavarian Parents' Association, said that distance learning was still essential during the pandemic because of the personal contact it offered between children and teachers.
“We see the dangers of distance learning elsewhere,” he said. “Namely, that students are not adequately educated because they cannot participate due to technical reasons.”
Thomas G. Rüdiger, a criminologist from the Brandenburg Police University, said that the risk of young children being exposed to pornography has increased during the pandemic.
“Many children are coming online for the first time right now,” he said. “If you give kids access to the internet – it's a global space without borders – they can be exposed to abusive content almost anywhere.”
Rüdiger said that it was important for both schools and parents to do more to educate young children about how to use the internet safely.