On the 1st of June, Forum Europe hosted the 2017 edition of the Digital Festival, a yearly meet-up event which connects people with innovation, focusing on three key themes: smart living, smart working and smart society.
COFACE Families Europe was invited to speak on a panel dedicated to the challenges of digital skills and how to educate children about digital technologies to make sure that they can make the best use of technology and stay safe online.
With respect to education, there are three main actors surrounding the child: public actors (official teachers, other publicly mandated educators), private actors (companies, the media) and the community (families and friends). Policies can influence mostly the first two actors: shaping the content and curriculum of public actors and restricting/limiting the impact of private actors (ban on certain advertisements or multimedia content). The community is the hardest to reach, simply due to the fact that there are rights guaranteeing a certain degree of autonomy for families from State interference. In order to maximize the positive impact of education policies, we need to insist on the first two strands and especially, ensure that education policies fall outside the scope of ideological/political battles (for instance, between secular and religious schools, private and public schools…).
A free, open and quality education should be a consensual goal for all political parties and policy makers. Keeping in check the impact of private actors is also of utmost importance, to ensure that they do not exercise undue influence over children. Finally, outreach programmes have to be put in place to empower parents and equip them with knowledge about emerging and existing digital technologies, thereby enhancing their digital parenting skills. Also, by ensuring that present day children have access to quality education, you create a new generation of parents more apt at giving certain life skills to their children. It’s not just “technical” skills, but overarching skills like critical thinking, learning about ideology, ask the right questions, curiosity etc.
Dealing with certain problems encountered online can be difficult, but there are overarching recommendations which can already help. For instance, making sure that children have a healthy life-balance between their time spent online and offline, and diversifying their activities (sports, leisure, studying, social time spent with friends…) Providing parents with easy to find repositories of quality/positive online content is essential, especially for young children. Such is the aim of the POSCON project of which COFACE Families Europe is a member.
Finally, the emerging challenges surrounding radicalisation and extremism online do not find easy answers and are inherently loaded with politics, forcing us as a society to face the hard questions: the fall-out from colonialism and neocolonialism, hypocritical foreign policy by our own governments (selling weapons to dictarorial/extremist regimes), inclusion and integration of migrants… With respect to these challenges, skills such as “critical thinking” are of utmost importance, but go beyond what is usually meant by those who advocate for it. Critical thinking has to be exercised against any content, not just radical/extremist content, including mainstream media and official public education, all of which can contain human bias.