Most children today can comfortably navigate mobile devices – and many have been so regularly to access their schooling in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the digital era ushers in ample opportunity for new ways of educating and connecting with children, it also introduces a bevy of new risks children will face. Concerns like inappropriate messaging, cyberbullying, data misuse, and misleading or misinformed news or advertising pop-ups are troubling components of the digital landscape.
21st-century skills which are critical skills highly demanded by employers will not only earn graduates a stable job in the future, but they might help keep kids safe on the digital front today.
Education systems, OECD argues, play a crucial role in properly equipping children with the skills they need to “effectively and ethically navigate the digital environment.”
OECD isn’t alone, as this goal is also reflected in The Global Goals for Sustainable Development’s fourth goal, to “ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development,” by 2030.
Future global citizens must also be future digitally-savvy ones.
Education Institutions: Adapting to a dynamic digital landscape
Institutions need to approach digital safety through multiple facets:
1. Family / Caregiver Education. Providing resources and information about Internet safety helps equip the child’s support system to discuss and identify potential issues.
2. Teacher support. Teachers also need support, both in terms of understanding and staying information of an evolving environment, and in reporting issues or concerns.
3. Policy and procedures. Coupled with teacher support, policy, and procedures for how to both avoid and report digital safety concerns.
What does a digital education strategy look like?
At a national level, many countries have acknowledged a need for and even developed, ambitious plans to support digital education, according to OECD. These ambitious plans, however, require several key anchors to make sure these strategies are not merely ambitious but are also successful.
1. Teachers require sufficient, ongoing training. The OECD cautions: “while digital technologies should ideally be designed to facilitate teachers, their potential cannot be reached if teachers do not have the right skills to deploy them. There is a continuous risk that investments in digital technologies have no return or even prove ineffective for education if the technologies are not (proficiently) used in class.” Education systems need to first define what success looks like for teachers, and then provide the professional development they’ll require.
2. Digital proficiency should be a benchmark for students, just like math and literacy. While our COVID-era mindset may shift to being able to navigate a dial-in and a learning app, digital proficiency is much broader, including navigating information, social skills, creative skills, and operational skills, according to Graaf Hooft.
3. Digital divides must be bridged in favor of equity and inclusion. The digital age threatens to widen the equity gap between people who have access to the right education – and technology in the first place. Educational institutions must take an offensive approach to actively reaching difficult to reach groups and preparing them equally for the digital age.
4. Prioritize privacy. Digitization unleashes new threats to privacy and security, beginning with the infrastructure itself. Beyond that, schools need to partner with their community to communicate awareness and preparedness plans, and children need to understand the risks and consequences of security breaches.
4Cs of 21st Century Skills
Employers everyone are highlighting critical skills for future employees, including critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. But these skills may do more than earn graduates a stable job in the future – they might help keep kids safe today.
By emphasizing core skills like critical thinking, we empower children to question digital information outlets or phishing scams. Cultivating strong communication skills helps children speak up in instances of cyberbullying or inappropriate situations. Championing creativity in children today can help build up our cybersecurity solution finders of tomorrow.
Raising children has always taken a village, but with the advancement of the digital age, we’re now living in a global village. Join Education Unbound in our quest to equip educators, break down barriers for underserved children, and prepare students to be savvy participants in their 21st-century jobs and communities. Learn more today: https://www.educationunbound.org/initiatives.