Embracing Digital Literacy — What is it, and why is it essential for our children?
The definition of literacy has evolved. In the past, someone who could read and write was considered to be a literate person. We now live in a world that is both enhanced and burdened by technological advancements. Digital media is now an integral part of our lives. The ability to read and write remains essential however it is no longer enough. To successfully navigate the rapidly changing world digital literacy skills are a must.
The American Library Association defines Digital literacy as ‘the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.’ In simple terms, digital literacy is the set of skills required to find, analyse, sort, evaluate, create and manage information in all digital forms.
The Importance of Digital Literacy for our Children
The main deterrent to the effective spread of digital literacy among the young generation is that the understanding of ‘what is literacy’ is outdated. Most schools continue to remain focused on developing traditional reading, writing and math skills. Educators and parents continue to consider technology to be intrusive and something that has limited place in the school curriculum. Many schools fail to recognise that digital literacy is one of the critical skills for the future.
The importance of digital literacy can be highlighted with a powerful example from our daily lives — the explosion of fake news. With more people accessing the internet than ever before, an enormous amount of misinformation is being spread across a variety of digital platforms. Non-digitally-literate children (and adults) are at serious risk of not being able to discern the credible from the non-credible sources. Children require digital literacy training as well as the development of critical thinking and judgement, so that they are able to distinguish facts from fake news.
Fake news and misinformation pose worrying consequences on society. They can undermine the nation and lead to mass exploitation of the digitally innocent.
The three main reasons why schools should instil strong digital literacy skills:
● To keep children safe when they consume, access or create information online
● To help children become responsible digital citizens
● To help children make the best use of the technology available in this century
Digital literacy goes beyond teaching our children the right way to use various technological tools. And it goes far beyond making children familiar with Google, Snapchat or Instagram. It is about empowering children by providing them with a set of powerful guidelines on how to navigate the digital world.
Digital literacy comprises several skill-sets — helping children understand the ethics of online resources, avoiding plagiarism, tackling cyberbullying, monitoring digital footprints and the know-how of various tools for the safe use of the internet .
Toolkit for Parents to build Digital Literacy Skills in children
Parents can prepare children to face the challenges and to leverage the benefits of the digital world. They can help their child build the right digital skills from an early age.
#1: Help your Child be Aware of Online Safety
Online safety is an essential part of digital literacy. The online world is a representation of the real world. Many websites steal personal information such as email addresses, mobile numbers, etc. Parents need to be watchful of hackers and paedophiles, after all the online world can be a dangerous place for a young child. Having said that, parents and educators can effectively guide children on how to stay safe online.
● Use a child-safe search engine and web browser to filter out inappropriate content. These internet filters are useful, relying solely on them is not the best way.
● Lay down rules on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable online. Children should be guided to never share personal information online — address, location, phone numbers, email ID’s, etc.
● Teach safe browsing practices, and not click on suspicious links or download files from any unknown or unreliable source.
● Play the interactive game Interland by Google, an effective and fun way to teach a child the basics of internet safety.
#2: Maintain a List of Trusted Sites
Today’s children happily use Google and other search engines. Instead of letting children hop on to any website on search results, parents should identify a list of reliable and trustworthy websites that children can use safely. Encourage children to use these trusted sites. After all, with healthy and safe online access, learning can be both engaging and lifelong.
#3: Demonstrate how to use Technology Responsibly
Just as we teach children social etiquette, we also need to teach them digital etiquette. We can effectively coach and guide our children on how to be safe online. Children can be taught that a single like or comment can have far-reaching consequences. For example, liking a post published by a cyberbully means that the child agrees with the cyberbully.
#4: Help Children Identify Credible Online Sources
As children begin exploring the online world for school projects, entertainment and general information, they need to ask these key questions:
● Is the site credible?
● Does it end with .gov, .edu, .org?
● Who is the author of the site or the article? What are his/her credentials? Is he/she a subject matter expert?
● Is the information provided by the site genuine (and/or current) or is it false (and/or outdated)?
Children should be encouraged to research the same information from different sources, and to not trust any online information without its proper verification.
#5: Encourage Children to create Original Content Online
The best way to encourage digital citizenship and to help children prepare for their future careers is to encourage them to develop and share original content. Children can experiment with a WordPress blog, upload appropriate videos on YouTube, create digital art and use PowerPoint to effectively present their work. The act of creating original digital content helps children deepen their learning and also become far more creative.
#6: Refine our own Digital Skills
“Children don’t do what we say, but do what we do.” If we want our children to adhere to specific digital standards, then we must lead by example. Our online behaviour needs to be carefully considered. An example from our daily lives is ‘do we forward Whatsapp forwards without verifying their authenticity?’
The Way Forward
Digital literacy and its relevance in building the skills of the world of the future is still work-in-progress however with the rapid march of technology and the growing role of the internet, digital literacy has emerged as an essential survival skill.
Digital skills (understood and applied correctly) expand a child’s creativity and knowledge. These essential skills will help children in their future careers and will make them far more life-effective.
As parents it is our responsibility to research the best methods to impart digital literacy skills in our children as these skills will help them effectively navigate a rapidly changing world.