ICT4SDG | SDG10 | Youth
July 17, 2014

Equipping our Children with Knowledge for the Digital Age

By Deborah Taylor Tate

Even more than the advent of the automobile, the Internet is hurtling us forward and transforming every part of our lives. From a computer that once took up an entire room to a wearable implanted chip, we watch, wear, and are connected almost every moment of the day; and night. Children today have never known a world without the Internet. They google, Snapchat, game and FaceTime without a thought about what life was before these innovations. Cisco estimates that by the year 2020 there will be more than 500 billion devices to connect us seamlessly and across the globe.

However, nowhere is there more opportunity for change than in the educational arena and yet our children often find obstacles to the incredible tools and content this digital age has to offer. The Aspen Institute in cooperation with the MacArthur Foundation recently launched a National Report on Learning and the Internet following a year of indepth research and public input. The Task Force included Educators, policymakers, researchers, nonprofits and experts in technology, security, privacy and sociology. The report provides an indepth assessment and suggests 4 pillars that support the central vision for a “Learner at the Center” approach.

  1. Equity of access for all whether hardware, software, technologies or infrastructure
  2. Interoperability of learning, devices, technology and platforms
  3. Digital literacies for the digital age
  4. Trusted Environment

At the same time we are celebrating the dazzling inventions in the 25 years since the Internet was born, our educational system looks much the same as it did 200 years ago. The Industrial Age prepared children for manufacturing jobs and classrooms reflected factories. Everyone was expected to learn the same way, work individually, learn passively and be able to recite facts. Today we know that every child learns differently, has unique gifts and talents and today can learn anytime, anywhere; often outside the traditional classroom walls.

Just as the Internet has disrupted every industry and sector, education must also be transformed to prepare our students for the jobs of this century and to insure we remain globally competitive.

Indeed there are very real obstacles and fears from data breaches to unwanted predators, from cyberbullying to being bombarded with inappropriate advertising, from child pornography to extreme violent content. All of these are very real concerns for educators, parents, children and our greater society.

That is why we must include digital literacy along with technical skills from the time a child first picks up an iPhone or an Xbox. One of the most effective ways of keeping young people—or users of any age—safe online is to equip them with the knowledge and skill to recognize, identify and respond appropriately to risks they may encounter. These skills include media literacy, digital literacy and social-emotional literacy. While researchers have identified critical components of these literacies and many schools provide some training, there are no widely accepted standards or curriculum. Every student must develop digital age literacies.

In addition, the Task Force calls on website operators and app developers to build safeguards through “privacy by design” similar to credit card architecture with unique digital identifiers to protect against fraud. Developers of educational devices, content and platforms should explore this type of trust framework to provide technical solutions to privacy and safety concerns. Another is developing an EER- electronic educational record- similar to the electronic health record concept. Students and parents would have access and could monitor who and what is being done with the student’s data as well as to become more involved in the progress, goals and potential learning pathway. The tool would be portable and transferable with the student and could also capture outside school learning environments through a credentialing process.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released its updated research regarding teens and risky behaviors. The good news is that most of the historically risky behaviors including teen sex, alcohol and tobacco use and even fighting have all rapidly decreased. However, on the other hand, online issues have increased substantially. Overall media use outside of educational purposes is up 41% and almost half of teens report texting while driving. Many believe that the reason for the decrease in many of the “real world” risky behaviors is due to public service campaigns, national dialogues, local school initiatives and nonprofits bringing attention and involving teens in combatting these problems. Similarly, the Task Force suggests corporate and philanthropic funding for public awareness campaigns to highlight risks and mitigation efforts such as digital literacy programs. The filtering software needs to reside not merely on an iPad or and laptop, but in their mind as they navigate new technologies throughout their lives.

No school, state, or even country can keep all the dangerous content off the web. The first and best defense of protecting all users- but especially young people—is to arm them at an early age with the capabilities to understand their online environment and optimize their safety and privacy themselves.

The Task Force report outlines a grand vision for how our nation can move forward regarding transforming schools, libraries and other places for learning. Businesses, government, educators, parents and other stakeholders have a role to play in implementing these recommendations. Benjamin Franklin said there are 3 types of people: those who are immoveable, moveable and those who are movers. Please join us and be a mover so that every child in this country will have all the opportunities the digital age has to offer, safely and securely. When movers make things happen, it becomes a movement. By harnessing the power and possibility the Internet- with learners at the center–children, our economy and our nation will prosper.

Deborah Taylor Tate
is a two-time U.S. Presidential nominee, served as FCC Commissioner, confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2005, and part of Official U.S. delegation to the 2007 World Radio Conference. Known as “The Children’s Commissioner,” she was appointed Chair of the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service and the Advanced Services (Broadband) Joint Board. She serves as the initial ITU Special Envoy (UN) for Child Online Protection. With President Lula (Brazil), she was awarded the World Telecommunications and Information Society Day Laureate for 2009 for her international work regarding the education and protection of children online. Along with Geena Davis, Tate is chairing the first National Healthy Media Commission regarding the impact of media especially on girls and women. Tate was chosen to serve on the National Aspen Task Force on Internet and Learning, co-chaired by Jeb Bush and Rosario Dawson and recently moderated a panel with former President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica at BYND 2015, a global youth summit organized by the ITU COP initiative.

Photo by Nathaniel Tetteh

  • Was this article Helpful ?
  • yes   no
© International Telecommunication Union 1865-2018 All Rights Reserved.
ITU is the United Nations' specialized agency for information and communication technology. Any opinions expressed and statistics presented by third parties do not necessarily reflect the views of ITU.

Equipping our Children with Knowledge for the Digital Age

Send this to a friend