Mumbai residents recently woke up to the news about a top ranked IB school in Mumbai suspending eight students aged 13-14 years for making violent and sexually explicit comments about their female classmates on WhatsApp. The conversation between the eight students exposed a disturbing culture of chauvisinism, sexism, gender-based violence and homophobia, which seemed even more horrific given their tender years.
As parents around the city reacted with disbelief and anger, arguments ranged from blaming parents to a culture which does not respect women to raging hormones. But what was ignored in the melee was a deeper problem: was there something else at work here? How were young kids having such explicit and vicious discussions about sexual assault?
The culprit, if one were to call it that, is hiding in plain sight. It lies in the proliferation of violent and inappropriate content on social media available at a young kid's finger tips. It lies in the lack of "digital literacy" and self oversight on his part about what is appropriate to read and absorb and what is to be posted and discussed even as a joke or banter among friends.
When Information Becomes The Enemy?
For an educator, one of the most worrying problems is the barrage of information that students scroll through. With easy access to social media and the internet, most students are digital natives. But what is disturbing is that the online world also comes inherent with immense risks, particularly for impressionable minds. Today's students may be voracious consumers of news but they are ill-equipped to sift the fake from the fact, reel from real.
What Is Digital Literacy?
Which brings us to the catch phrase of modern times: digital literacy. The term has become an important part of the 21st century learning skills and no longer stands for proficiency in Excel spreadsheets or knowing how to code. Digital literacy is necessary to become good digital citizens and is not just about using technology as a means of information. A large component of digital literacy is about learning social norms that apply to online behaviour.
The Four Pillars Of Wisdom : The 3Rs and E-safety
If students are to become good digital citizens, the task of teaching them appropriate online behaviour has to begin in the classroom. A House of Lords Report in 2017 cited digital literacy as one of the most important tenets of classroom learning. It stated that "digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of a child's education alongside reading, writing and mathematics and should be resourced and taught accordingly."
Teaching E-Safety In A Classroom
The duty of cultivating our students into discerning critical thinkers lies at the hands of digitally literate teachers. Digital platforms make children vulnerable to anti-social elements while also exposing them to manipulation and misinformation. The task of teaching digital literacy in the classroom is not just about spotting fake news or sorting the information that comes via digital screens. It is about fostering a strong sense of social engagement based on understanding and respecting responsible uses of the internet.
Introducing The 3Cs Of Digital Literacy
Lessons about online behaviour, risks and responsibilities should be made a part of the learning curriculum at all educational institutions. And the way to do it is through introducing the 3Cs of Digital Literacy into the classroom: Critical Thinking, Communications and Citizenship. The 3Cs are essential tools to learn how to communicate with a wide ranging audience holding diverse values, while being aware of the necessary standards of behaviour expected in an online environment.
When Parents Walk The Talk
It is not just the educators who should bear the onus of e-safety. Parents too have an important role in being engaged with their children on sensitive issues. They need to first accept that their kids are watching a lot of objectionable matter on screen. And it is up to them to have open, non-judgmental chats with their children about the various things they see and hear. In this regard, schools need to have counseling sessions for parents where they are taught to be open about having these conversations.
Time To Fight Back!
The Internet is here to stay. The younger generation has to live with the challenges that ever-changing technology brings to their lives. But it is educators and parents who have to step up to the plate and prepare them with the skills needed to stay safe.
Sunita Wadekar Bhargava is a professor of Journalism at the Xavier Institute of Communication (XIC) in Mumbai and an author, blogger and columnist. She is currently collaborating with BOOM in our endeavour to bring Fake News debunking sessions to schools and colleges.
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