Teaching ākonga to be good digital citizens

Issue: Volume 101, Number 8

Posted: 30 June 2022
Reference #: 1HAUp7

The Ministry of Education’s chief education scientific advisor, Stuart McNaughton, discusses how education can combat misinformation and disinformation by promoting critical thinking and literacy, alongside positive social and emotional skills for the digital world. 

Stuart McNaughton, chief education scientific advisor at Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | The Ministry of Education.

Stuart McNaughton, chief education scientific advisor at Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga | The Ministry of Education.

The misuse of online messages and information ranges from being misleading to being harmful and hateful. An increase in access and susceptibility poses a rapidly growing global challenge, and a very real one in Aotearoa New Zealand. 

From 2012 to 2018, 15-year-olds increased their overall use of the internet from 20 hours per week to 42 hours per week. 

The threats of misinformation and disinformation campaigns undermine social cohesion, wellbeing and a well-informed citizenry. This was illustrated by how social media seeded and spread the false and harmful information which underpinned the parliamentary protest earlier this year. 

But the tools and the communities afforded by the internet and social media also provide the means to not only counteract this threat, but also to increase digital citizenship skills. 

This was recognised by the Royal Commission Report into the Christchurch Attack which recommended more opportunities for rangatahi to learn to be resilient, including learning ‘civic literacy’ and self-regulation.

Few other countries have adopted a national approach; Finland is a notable exception, and it is urgent that New Zealand does. A multi-pronged approach is required to reduce the threat and increase resilience, including legislative and regulatory approaches. 

The role of education

Education has a central preventive role to play, by promoting critical thinking and critical literacy alongside positive social and emotional skills, such as self-regulation, empathy, and perspective. 

This combination is needed to prevent misuse of the internet and information, including through cyberbullying, as well as the effects of such misuse.  

International and local evidence indicates four areas where we can make a difference. 

The first is through the curriculum. We have updated
Te Whāriki, developed a Literacy & Communication and Maths strategy, and are in the process of refreshing the national curricula, The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa

Each of these mean educators can be more specific about the common practices and instruction for the combination of digital citizenship skills. These need to be consistent and promoted within and across all learning areas, and not separate to them. 

It will be critical that teachers have resources and professional learning and development support for the system to deliver. 

Secondly, we know the skills are teachable, yet systems including our own are not good at teaching them. Further research and development into how best to teach can support the aspirations of the curricula. 

There are gaps in our evidence base for what works for whom, under what conditions, at scale, and what is sustainable over the long term. 

The direction and knowledge provided through Mātauranga Māori is crucial to filling the gaps. Like the curriculum changes, developments are underway. 

For example, studies are going on into how to promote self-control and self-regulation in early learning (such as the ENGAGE programme) and critically how to take what we know about such interventions to scale nationally. 

The third area is how schoolwide programmes and innovations can create the values, norms and practices that support specific skills and learning. 

The cybersmart practices and digital citizenship communities of the Manaiakalani clusters of schools are examples, and well embedded programmes such as Positive Behaviour for Learning provide opportunities to target the positive social and emotional skills further. 

The fourth area is developing shared knowledge and mutual support between schools and their communities. 

The current generation of parents and whānau are the first to have to consider how best to provide guidance for these new forms of resilience with their tamariki and rangatahi. 

It is imperative schools and their communities work together to develop the needed advice and appropriate forms of support.  

A joined-up approach

Education has many strengths on which to draw, and we are in a privileged position in Aotearoa New Zealand to have fundamental concepts around this thinking from Te Ao Māori and Mātauranga Māori. 

But we will need to guarantee consistently high quality and equitable success in our educational response. 

One of the lessons from Finland is that a response should be based on a life course approach, from early learning through to and beyond secondary schooling. A joined-up approach is key.  

We know the risks, and there are disturbing examples of potential futures if we don’t boost resilience. 

However, we have the potential to develop even more highly energised and engaged young people who, because of the reach and breadth of the digital worlds, are better able to think through the hard global and local issues, critically, collaboratively and with compassion. 

Further reading

Digital citizenship resources on Te Kete Ipurangi(external link)

Netsafe New Zealand(external link) have resources to help tamariki spot misinformation 

Safer Internet Day(external link), celebrated globally every February, is a day dedicated to promoting a safer online world.

Education Gazette article: Developing self-regulation in young tamariki through play.(external link)

Education Gazette  article: Developing social and emotional learning through live theatre(external link)

Education Gazette article: Measuring the impact of social media on busy teenage lives(external link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 9:52 am, 30 June 2022

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