Five reasons children need digital citizenship educationDigital and online technologies are all the rage in education these days, and with good reason. Technology enables a wonderful interchange of ideas and thoughts, facilitates the collection of data to meet individual students’ needs and helps students learn complex skills in a more engaging way as compared to traditional teaching methods.

However, it also introduces potential dangers and a new way of working for students. Digital natives are typically very adept at using technology, but the goal is to ensure students are doing so safely and responsibly. This concept, known as digital citizenship, goes beyond a focus on cyber safety and cyber bullying to address the wider issues of digital and media literacy.

The case for formal
digital citizenship education

It is a misnomer to think that simply because students technically know how to use hardware and/or software, that they equally understand their rights and responsibilities when online. True, students will learn through their own experiences and trial and error, however this approach can lead to unintended and/or long-term consequences. That’s why a more proactive approach is recommended.

As more and more students use technology in the classroom, schools have become a part of the wider community that is responsible for educating students about how to participate in a digitally-enabled world. What’s more, the Australian curriculum requires that teachers across all learning areas help students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become digital citizens.

Not fully convinced?
Here are five reasons why you need formal digital citizenship education at your school.

Reason 1: Students have constant access to personal devices and apps

To understand this, it’s important to note that teachers use different technologies and apps than children do and even have a different understanding of how they operate. Most teachers currently in the workforce did not grow up with mobile phones or access to devices such as tablets, yet 67% of 12-13 year olds in Australia have their own personal mobile phone1. In addition, children in this age group frequently have access to other devices such as computers, laptops, tablets, and even gaming consoles that can access the internet. Usage is also very high and teenagers spend upwards of three hours at a time online multiple times per day2.

Many adults simply don’t have the best understanding of interactions involving these technologies and therefore can struggle to supervise or educate students on how to use them. This means students are potentially at risk of malicious behavior and teachers and/or parents could be none the wiser.

Reason 2: The line is blurred between online and offline personas

Junior secondary school students were born in the ‘information age’, a time where the lines between the online and offline worlds are blurred to the point that the actions in one ‘world’ can have very real effects on the other. Unfortunately for students, their developing minds cannot fully grasp this concept so there is a disconnect between their online persona and the consequences that it can have for their offline self. Without a fully developed sense of morality, it is difficult for kids to gauge what is, and isn’t, correct in the online world. This can lead to reckless behaviour online without concern for real-life results. Cyber bullying, which will be discussed next, is one such example where children don’t realise the real-world impact of spreading offensive or harmful messages online.

Reason 3: Cyber bullying is prevalent even among younger age groups

While digital citizenship is about more than cyber bullying, it would be remiss to ignore it completely since it can be an issue that many student face at school. It is reported that 1 in 10 kids are bullied online3 and feel constantly anxious as a result. This anxiety stems from the fact that they know they can be targeted anywhere—even in the safety of their home. Social media use is a contributing factor as well: 45% of 11 year olds already use social media1 and the numbers only rise from that age group onward with 82% of teenagers using it in some form5. Engaging with social media increases their touch points with the internet and other users and thus increases their chance of encountering cyber bullying.

Reason 4: The online world presents a variety of security risks

In a recent survey, 60% of parents expressed concerns about online activities that weren’t just cyber bullying related5, notably the risk of children accessing inappropriate content or any content that was linked to viruses or scams. Parents also worried about them sharing personal information in a public forum or posting pictures of themselves for others to view. As mentioned previously, students don’t understand the risks that these actions pose and need to be educated on what is safe and unsafe behaviour.

Reason 5: Online learning is beneficial

Lastly, a great reason for students to learn how to be savvy digital citizens is that the online world can be hugely beneficial to them. In the survey mentioned above, while 60% of parents were concerned about the online risks, an overwhelming 90% said that their child benefited from being online5. According to respondents, being online helped children with school work, problem solving skills, creativity, and feeling connected with family and friends. It’s clear that there are many positives to technology and working online, hence the need for formal digital citizenship education to ensure that students can safely access these benefits.

Teaching students how to be responsible online can seem like a daunting task so that’s why Jacaranda recently launched a new online digital citizenship education tool for Years 6-8. Jacaranda Digital Citizenship is accredited by the Australian Children’s eSafety Commissioner and covers all areas of digital and media literacy as required by the curriculum, from cyber safety and cyber bullying, to researching, communicating, socialising and purchasing online. Children learn at their own pace, inside and outside the classroom, and visibility of results provides teachers with insights into potential knowledge gaps. For more information including pricing, visit Jacaranda Digital Citizenship page.

For anyone looking to implement a formal digital literacy program, we hope this information helped. If your school is already teaching digital citizenship, we’d love to know how you’re going about it so let us know in the comments below. We’re always keen to better understand your challenges so we can come up with practical solutions to address them.

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