Disruptive digital literacies in the era of data governance: addressing generation Z, with and beyond education

17 Dec 2017 14:00h - 17:00h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]

This session focused on the future of digital literacies and education with regard to data flows and their impact. The event consisted of opening statements followed by three topic panels:  (1) Harnessing Big Data for Education: E-Strategies for All, (2) Enabling Young People (‘Gen Z’) in Formal and Informal Education: Competences, and (3) Skills For Citizens and Working Adults: Digital Lifelong Training And Beyond.

Ms Divina Frau-Meigs, Professor at Sorbonne Nouvelle and President of Savoir-Devenir, opened the floor by stating that the discussion should address the issue of how different kinds of literacies like media information literacy, net neutrality literacy, and privacy literacy can disrupt education. She also mentioned the importance of empowering Internet users as citizens, so they can have a stronger voice in Internet governance debates.

Mr Frank La Rue, Assistant Director-General Communication and Information, UNESCO, pointed out that every technological advance in history is a wonderful leap forward for humanity, but this also brings with it its own dangers and pitfalls. This is why it is important to look at new technologies from the perspective of what they can do to improve human development and living standards. In this sense, the Internet is a powerful tool to enable the enjoyment of basic human rights like access to information or education. Internet, La Rue stated, can be used for good or bad purposes. To make sure we can harness the potential of Internet for social good, he mentioned three categories that can be used as guidelines: the human rights framework, and especially the legal standards for freedom of expression, social standards that build ‘some degree of social responsibility between corporations and the public’, and ethical standards. For La Rue, it is very important to understand the three levels and not to confuse them. Finally, he expressed that prevention is the best policy to deal with the potential threats of new technologies. This would mean teaching youth to use the Internet in a positive way, ‘as a tool of understanding, of sharing knowledge, of celebrating the triumphs of others, celebrating the cultures and the diversity in the world, of understanding the world in a different way.’ He added that working with children and young people also means working closely with teachers and the educational system.

Mr Villano Qiriazi, Head of the Education Policy Division, Council of Europe (CoE), first commented on the CoE’s programmes related to the Internet, which were originally focused on safety and protection and now have been expanded to include the empowerment of children and young people to become ‘responsible and democratic citizens in the online environment’. He reflected on the role of education not just in preparing students for the labour market, but also for personal development and civic engagement. This is why the CoE developed its Framework of Competencies for Democratic Culture which is organized around four major clusters on values, skills, attitudes, and critical knowledge. Qiriazi mentioned that nowadays, with the development of relatively inexpensive technology, the digital gap is more likely to be on the side of competences rather than access. This is why it is fundamental to create learning opportunities for young people to develop their online proficiency, and to become responsible citizens in the context of an evolving and complex society. The speaker went on to describe two major CoE strategies, one on Internet governance, and another one on children rights. ‘The objectives of both strategies are to secure their right to privacy of citizens, including children, in the new media environment, creating ways for children and families to identify suitable online content, protecting children from violence, violence in schools, and sharing best practices.’

Ms Jasmina Byrne, Child Protection Specialist, from UNICEF’s Office of Research, moderated the first panel on Harnessing Big Data for Education: E-Strategies for All. She talked about UNICEF’s research concerning children’s use of the Internet and went on to introduce the speakers.

Mr Carl Gahnberg, Global Public Policy Advisor at the Internet Society (ISOC), commented on the work that ISOC is doing to expand Internet access to support educational endeavours. He reflected on the need to change our mind-sets when it comes to digital literacy and to have young people involved in these discussions about digital skills. The skills used for navigating online challenges are actually the same skills needed as citizens in every aspect of our online and offline lives. For Gahnberg ‘if we want to talk about digital literacy in education, we have to think of it as vocational, civic education in the 21st Century.’ Learning how the Internet works, the basics of data governance or basic programming are also skills that will be useful to be an informed and responsible citizen.

Ms Jelena Mocevic, Manager of European Heritage Days at the CoE, brought to the discussion two of the CoE’s recommendations that were relevant to the discussion. The first one was about Big Data for Culture, Literacy and Democracy, which outlines the importance of a multistakeholder dialogue when it comes to these issues. The second one, the Recommendation on the Internet of Citizens, addresses the importance of education and digital literacy to build an Internet of Citizens as a counterbalance to the Internet of Things. Mocevic reflected on the specificities of Generation Z, a generation of digital natives that puts technology at the centre of their lives. In this sense, there is a need to include young people in the discussion in a meaningful and comprehensive way. She mentioned the importance of teaching soft skills to young people, and highlighted the importance of critical thinking and cultivating the passion for learning.

Ms Ruxa Pandea, Educational Adviser at the Youth Department, CoE, pointed out that we should not be so hasty to label young people as if they were a compact group. In this sense, a one-size-fits-all policy will not work and questions on discrimination, power, and privilege need to be taken into account. The speaker also highlighted that youth participation should not only be about giving them a space but also about supporting them with the necessary skills for meaningful participation. Pandea emphasised that we need to work together with young people in a context of trust and respect and that, ultimately, the mission of education is to prepare young people and children for the world as it is ‘so that they can engage with it and they can actually disrupt it’.

The moderator of the second panel on Enabling Young People (‘Gen Z’) in Formal and Informal Education: Competences, Mr Villano Qiriazi, opened the discussion by asking the panellists: How can we have a shared definition or understanding of eCitizenship or digital citizenship?

Mr Larry Magid, Founder of Connect Safely and Journalist at CBS, talked about the importance of including the issue of rights in the conversation about digital citizenship. He also suggested including the concept of emotional literacy when we talk about STEM education. For Magid, critical thinking should also be a priority, but this should be coupled with an education that teaches young people the importance of trust in democratic institutions. The speaker also reflected that most people, including digital natives, are consumers of technology but rarely creators.

Mr Stephen Wyber, Policy and Research Officer for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, spoke about the flexible boundary between informal and formal education and mentioned good examples like the Finnish education system and the Australian one, where teachers work with school librarians, local librarians, and other community actors to build a ‘consistent approach throughout the child’s experience’. He also noted how online learning platforms can have a lot of potential but also raise challenges regarding privacy and data protection.

Ms Elizabeth Milovidov, Consultant and Coach on Digital Parenting, talked about the difficulties that parents face when they want to protect their children online: she said that they are often afraid to ask their children about their online activity and they rarely join them in those activities. Her advice for the parents is to get more involved in their kids’ online world. Regarding children’s autonomy, Milovidov pointed out that kids still need parental guidance on their activities and educational paths online.

Ms Janice Richardson, Senior Consultant of Children Rights, Education and Awareness at Insight, presented the example of Australia, where a board decides what the curriculum should be in schools in the state. This board includes educators, but also the private sector and even the pupils. ‘If we do have young people sitting around the table with industry and with the academics, perhaps we can move forward much further’, she noted. Finally, she advocated for an approach that does not label generations in a simplifying manner.

The last panel was on Skills for Citizens and Working Adults: Digital Lifelong Training and Beyond which was moderated by Milovidov and Richardson. The moderators started by asking the audience to divide into groups and choose three key goals for three different areas: participation, engagement, and responsibility. After the interactive discussion, they gave the floor to the panellists.

Ms Marilia Maciel, Digital Policy Senior Researcher at DiploFoundation, shared her experience at DiploFoundation, which works in fields related to diplomacy and digital policies. When it comes to Diplo’s online courses, peer-to-peer learning is the best way of ensuring knowledge development. Participants add comments on top of the lecture texts and dynamic discussion quickly begins. In the end, the course is ‘about the concepts presented and the layer of knowledge that was added on top of the text by the students themselves’. In this sense, she highlighted that the architecture influences the way that we interact with each other so you need to be sure that that the architecture of your platform will encourage people to not just be readers of a text that is coming from another source but actually participate in an active manner.

Mr Menno Ettema, Educational Advisor at the CoE, raised issues on the participation of youth as key stakeholders in the Internet governance discussion. He stated that young people are very concerned about social issues but they are usually not being heard. Governments want to work with young people, but only on matters like counter-terrorism. The discussion should be expanded. It is fundamental to foster education that includes digital literacy, but also emotional literacy and human rights.

To finalise the event, Mr Yves Mathieu, Co-founder of Missions Publiques, gave a closing statement commenting on his work on engaging citizens in the policymaking process and noted that in every IGF meeting the question of how we engage citizens arises. Mathieu said that we need to do more to foster participation and inclusion at the local and global levels. He closed by mentioning that this is not only an issue of educating the ordinary people, it is also an issue of educating all stakeholders.

By Tamar Colodenco