The reality of online content today is that there is a wide range of seemingly credible and reliable sources of news and information at one’s fingerprints. However, even the best of us can be hard-pressed to tell the difference between fake or authentic information. As was recently reported in Today Online Singapore, Singapore’s national Media Literacy Council (MLC) mistakenly conflated satire with fake news in its nationally disseminated communications material. It turns out that sometimes people struggle to distinguish between the two. As educators, it becomes a critical responsibility to ensure that children are equipped with the right competencies to be able to critically evaluate the information and sources they can find online.
Where should educators start? UNESCO’s Digital Kids Asia-Pacific Framework for Education (DKAP Framework) suggests focusing on Digital Literacy and its competencies.
Digital Literacy and Its Competencies
Digital literacy revolves around one’s ability to use technology to find, assess, create, and communicate. When consuming or sharing digital content, one must be knowledgeable in many aspects of technology. This includes using a search engine, posting online, and reading an electronic book.
The DKAP Framework for Education defines digital literacy as “the ability to seek, critically evaluate, and use digital tools and information effectively to make informed decisions,” but what does it mean to be digitally literate?
As one of the framework’s domains, digital literacy consists of two competencies: Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Literacy and Information Literacy.
With the presence of many technology devices, it has become an essential part of a child’s education to understand and be able to operate ICT hardware and software. This skill is defined as ICT literacy where individuals can competently access, manage, and operate hardware and software. ICT literacy is an essential competency for users to get started and take part in online activities such as social participation.
In operating these devices, one must also be responsible in searching and consuming information. This connects to digital literacy’s second component, information literacy. Information literacy is our ability to search, critically evaluate, and effectively use digital information to make informed decisions. This includes how we use and share information online.
Given the widespread issues on satirical websites and fake news sources, children must have the ability to assess which sources are reliable when getting information. They must be able to evaluate data and make decisions in a digital environment while practicing critical thinking and understanding.
Further, in an era of cheaper and more affordable smartphones, these tools are now integrated into children’s daily lives. Mastering the two Digital Literacy competencies would decrease a child’s vulnerability to online harm and risks and provide them with the proper skills and mindset to reap technology’s benefits.
#BridgeTheGap towards Digital Literacy
To nurture children’s digital literacy, they must first have access to the ICT tools to explore, to begin with. Today’s kids are growing up in a world heavily dependent on technology. As revealed in the DKAP survey conducted among 15-year old students in select countries, a significant percentage of students have been exposed to technology early on in specific countries. For example, four in five kids in the Republic of Korea have been using digital devices for more than five years. On the flip side, however, DKAP also found out that in Bangladesh, more than half of the students have only started using digital devices at the age of 14 years old.
This gap in access to digital devices is just one facet of the digital divide that affects students’ opportunities to develop their digital literacy competencies. As the DKAP findings suggest, “children who are exposed to digital devices earlier develop higher competencies in Digital Literacy, Digital Safety and Resilience, Digital Emotional Intelligence, and Digital Creativity and Innovation.” To help children become digitally competent, there must first be mechanisms in place to support the exploration of technology at an early age, and a good start would be through the public education system. However, there is still a gap in the quality of access in schools. For example, 72 percent of students in Korea reported that their teachers only promoted the use of the internet sometimes, hardly ever, or never. On the other hand, almost 70 percent of the students in Bangladesh reported that their teachers promoted the use of the internet to explore and learn often, very often, or all the time. Ensuring that access and quality gaps are bridged is a prerequisite towards nurturing children’s digital citizenship.
DKAP encourages knowledge sharing among Member States such as case studies on how their DKAP findings have been applied to educational policies. In support of Information Literacy, UNESCO supports the development Media and Information Literacy (MIL) competencies through policy guidelines, assessment framework, curricula development and free online resources.
Digital Literacy is one of the five domains that must be nurtured for children to become holistic digital citizens. As a result, incorporating Digital Literacy into education has to be one of the crucial steps towards empowering children to take full advantage of the learning opportunities offered by technology.
To learn more about the rest of the DKAP Framework, download the full report here.