International Youth Day 2019 – Transforming digital citizenship education

  • Youth
  • 12/08/2019
  • BIK Team

Monday, 12 August 2019 marks International Youth Day (IYD). On this occasion, and in line with the 2019 theme "Transforming education", some BIK Youth Ambassadors share their views on digital citizenship education in their respective countries.

12 August was first designated International Youth Day by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1999, and is an opportunity to celebrate the role of young people as essential partners in change, and to raise awareness of the challenges and problems facing the world's youth.

Young people as peer educators on digital citizenship issues

BIK Youth Ambassadors are aware that to raise awareness and educate their peers about better internet and digital citizenship issues, dialogue is extremely important. As Frida, BIK Youth Ambassador from Finland, puts it, "it's important to talk with other young people, about the internet, its good and bad sides, how we can make it better, and so much more" – a view echoed by Lorcan, from Ireland: "making how we interact online part of our everyday conversations is important. Through talking about our online experiences, we can learn how to make the internet a safer place for everyone".

BIK Youth Ambassadors also take an active part in transforming digital education, each in their own ways. Lili, who is active in the Austrian youth panel, has developed an initiative on her organisation's Instagram account: "we have Youth Experts (aged 13-20) who choose a current topic, and we let them film their own ‘explanation videos' for our Instagram account – this way, they learn to deal with these topics and give advice to youth their age at the same time".

João, a long-standing BIK Youth Ambassador from Portugal, explained that there are many ways to engage other young people in discussions about online well-being and digital citizenship; in any case, what matters most is being able to appeal and relate to young people in a way that professionals cannot: "throughout the last eight years, I have participated in countless national and international initiatives which aimed specifically for online behaviour awareness and education (ranging from cybersecurity to media literacy, and so on). I do believe that it's important to present the topics in a clear and simple way. I need to be able to make those topics relatable to these young people, their habits and their challenges online, doing it in an open and inclusive debate or casual conversation".

Yet, despite their awareness efforts in favour of better basic digital skills among young people in Europe, the Ambassadors are aware that there will only be significant and comprehensive improvement when their respective educational systems take measures to mainstream digital skills and digital citizenship in national curricula. As Catarina, BIK Youth Ambassador from Portugal, noted: "we understand that we don't know everything as young people, and it's ok, but we need someone to teach us, especially in digital issues. It's the best way to raise awareness among young people".

The need for better digital citizenship courses in schools

When asked which changes they would like to see in their respective education systems to ensure proper online safety and digital citizenship education, several Ambassadors pointed to the same issue: many teachers and school professionals lack adequate digital skills. João explained that what he experiences when he goes to schools to provide awareness sessions to young people, "is that often teachers themselves also have similar questions or face the same digital challenges without knowing how to cope with them. This fact stresses the need for continuous training of the teachers/educators and a better central coordination in terms of resources and topics to be included in regular classes of different subjects".

This view was reinforced by Lili, who claimed that "it is necessary for teachers to be confident with online safety and digital citizenship before they teach children about it. There is more to this than an obligatory discussion in school in order to really understand and support the young people, especially when it comes to social media. And there are still too few who voluntarily invest time and work in these topics. Since this year, there is a subject in school called ‘Digitale Grundbildung' (Basic Digital  Education). This subject must be taught obligatorily in primary  schools and secondary schools. This is the first step in this direction". In Finland too, the education system comprises digital citizenship and online safety, according to Frida, who added that: "it would be good to start teaching it earlier and with more information, for example through games and examples adapted to the age group".

Instead of a big overhaul, Catarina advised to introduce some changes incrementally, for example by discussing some specific issues – such as "how to deal with hate speech" and "fake news" – which could be integrated in the general curriculum. She also highlighted that it is the school's responsibility to teach basic digital literacy, such as "how to use a smartphone or a laptop correctly".

To learn more about International Youth Day, visit the United Nations' website. For more information about the BIK Youth programme and its Ambassadors, visit betterinternetforkids.eu/youth.


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