In 2019, over 90% of young people aged from 5 to 15 were using the internet, spending on average over two hours each day online. One can only imagine what the final figures will be for 2020, especially as initial research shows an average of five hours were spent on the internet each day just for online learning when schools were closed during lockdown. The internet is inevitably becoming ever more entrenched in the behaviours and daily activities of this truly digital generation.
Of course, this is not necessarily a bad thing. For the parents and teachers watching young people navigate an online world that they often understand better than we do, the concern is how best to keep them safe while allowing them to get the most out of the internet. How can we equip them with the skills, knowledge and confidence to navigate their online experience without risk – and be ready for a very digital future?
This is a question Nominet has been seeking to answer for over a year now as we worked together with the Scouts to research and develop a Digital Citizenship Badge fit for the 2020s. We are now ready to launch the badge, complete with a comprehensive curriculum which will help young people learn how to be good digital citizens via a series of tasks and modules. The intention is to raise awareness of the risks of the digital world while imparting the skills needed to reap the opportunity and rewards it presents too.
UK Scouting, more often associated with outdoor adventures and physical skills, is rightly proud of its legacy but conscious of the need to remain dynamic and adaptable, well aware of how rapidly the world is changing and how different some of the skills that a young person needs today are from those required when the Scouts was established in the UK over a century ago. As well as learning how to light fires and put up a tent, young people need to know how to navigate a digital world safely, with respect to others, and be aware of the wider implications of their online actions.
It’s a complex arena – and one that changes rapidly – which is why we undertook careful research to design this new programme. For example, the 2019 Ofcom report revealed that just over half of 12-15 year olds found it difficult to work out if news on social media was accurate or not, despite being conscious about the risks of misinformation. Those undertaking the badge will not only learn how to spot fake news, they will also get pointers on how to best conduct themselves online, spot bad behaviour and report it, use online tools to improve their CV, and learn how to best protect their data when they are signing up to online services such as social media apps and home-school learning platforms, for example.
The badge goes beyond safety too, with activities to demonstrate how digital tools can positively impact learning, the community and the local environment. Such education is going to become critical for this generation as they face a future that will predominantly be experienced via digital means, whether that be for their personal lives or in the workplace. If we can equip the young with the skills and awareness to conduct themselves with empathy and cognisance when online, we can create a future generation of adults who are able to truly ensure the digital revolution is one of benefits and not a means to exacerbate existing inequalities.
Of course, this badge launches into uncertain times, with community gatherings such as the Scouts still difficult under current Government conditions to limit the spread of the coronavirus (although they are working on how to get groups meeting again – updates are available on the Scouts website). In the meantime the Scouts has embraced the virtual experience and has, since the national lockdown started in March, been making resources and badges available to not only its network of young Scouts via their Great Indoors initiative, but to children all over the UK. No matter how long Scout groups must wait until they can be together in the physical world again, this digital-focused badge can be accessed and worked through via a medium that is perhaps more apt.
As a parent myself, anxiously trying to help my children navigate their digital lives, I recognise how important a Scouts badge like this is. Knowing that digital citizenship is being taken so seriously by one of the most prominent and influential organisations working with young people today – there are almost 400,000 Scouts across the UK – is reassuring. It gives me hope that the adults of tomorrow will be able to harness all the progress made so far to take the digital revolution to new heights.