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We are the alternative to schooling.

Raising digital citizens of the future

MS

Mihika Shankar

Jun 18, 2020

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For ardent tech enthusiasts, watching Steve Jobs unleash a slimmer, faster and prettier mobile device (than his earlier ones), on the world was the heralding of a new era in mobile technology. However, for me it was a rather amusing video a parent shared of her one-year-old daughter trying to touch and swipe at the colourful pages of a print magazine as if it was a tablet. In this clip, the baby becomes frustrated at the static nature of the content rather quickly. She is pacified only when she lay her hands on a real tablet device – the only kind of interface that responded to her and more importantly, the only kind she was comfortable with. That visual stayed with me over the years for several reasons. It was the ultimate reminder that the mobile revolution is here to stay and it will dictate the way our children will work and play in the future.

Through their strong online presence, young people are leading the way in shaping business, social causes and public policy. They are expressing their unique and vibrant personalities through their own digital footprint, that will last for the decades to come. While the jury is still out on the overall effects of digital access on young minds, the truth remains that we need to empower them with knowledge, attitudes and skills that will help them grow into responsible digital citizens of the future.

Protect

In her recent TED Talk , Dr. Veronica Barrasi takes on the uncomfortable yet poignant discussion on the intrusive nature of AI technologies. Right from their time in the womb, they are tracked closely and personal information is sold to companies. Apart from being victims of blatant identity theft, it is unfair that our children will be profiled with the bias of an algorithm, even before they have had the chance to prove themselves.

The quality of protecting oneself online is fundamental to responsible digital citizenship. Just as we teach toddlers about safety before they take their first steps into the outside world, our teens need the same guidance before their advent into the World Wide Web. This means, young learners must have a clear understanding of the information that is to be kept private at all costs, namely home addresses, school locations, phone numbers, credit card numbers and personal photographs. When in doubt, don’t share!

Respect

Shockingly, 8 out 10 people experience some kind of online harassment in India, be it trolling or cyberbullying according to a study by Norton by Symantec. Young learners will soon understand that their online presence is not merely about themselves – it is about people that come from diverse cultural backgrounds and opinions. Much of learning will come from respectful debate with each other. A good way to start a conversation around respectful online behaviour could be from the fact that the Internet gives every single person a voice, especially when they lack one in real life.

Showing respect to the people we interact with online (and offline, of course!) begins with learning the right way to show dissent as well. Respect is by no means, synonymous with conforming to the ideas of others. It could well be a strong opinion, however with the use of civil parlance and without viciously attacking the sentiments of others. This is an attitude that often takes a lifetime to imbibe and it is helpful to be a learner’s go-to resource when they have fears or concerns.

Reflect

Unfortunately, not everything we consume online is authentic and can hardly be taken at face value. As our children grow up surrounded by fake news, we must encourage them to question and examine whatever they come across online. On the other hand, this would be good advice for children making sense of the complex pressure that comes from social networks filled with peers and influencers. They must be aware from the start that not every vacation photograph is proof of privilege and not every filtered selfie is proof of a flawless body. When we guide our children to reflect and introspect about their online experiences deeply, we are in fact, teaching them to choose what helps them thrive and reject what harms them.

That the role of parenting is paramount in the task of raising responsible digital citizens, is evident in all points of this post. Our children are constantly looking to us for outward guidance and support, and silently they are even looking to us for a behavioural template to follow. As parents, we need to lead by example by the kind of content we post, how much we post and how we react to those posts in the future. Expecting our children to show restraint when we excessively share details of our lives is unrealistic, as is expecting them to be respectful when we communicate through rants and rebuttals. As with real life, leading by example is a highly effective way to influence young minds positively. Raising sensitive and intelligent digital citizens of the future will become an inseparable component of raising good human beings. Perhaps, they are what the world needs most.

We are not an alternative school.
We are the alternative to schooling.

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