Help me to do it myself

Maria Montessori

What should access and inclusion mean for a digital citizen?

To become a digital citizen, access to digital technology is essential, but it is far from sufficient. The online world is a vast, unbounded space, ripe with opportunity.

It is also more demanding than the “offline” world in many ways, not least because of its exponential dissemination power and the apparent anonymity it can afford us. For this reason, access calls not only for technical skills to effectively navigate the endless labyrinths of the online world, but also an accrued sense of responsibility and respect towards others, based on the fundamental values of human dignity and human rights.

Technology access offers new learning, communication and creative tools and platforms in all shapes and forms. These include, but are not limited to, the traditional personal or laptop computer and keyboard, mobile phones, tablets and game consoles, apps and, nowadays, robots, the internet of toys and internet of things. One of the first responsibilities of digital citizens, as in any community in which we are active, is to ensure openness in these digital spaces for minority groups, less abled people and the opinions of people from every walk of life. However, this is but one aspect of the term “inclusion”.
 

Reaching beyond today’s limits

Even today, a quarter of a century after the advent of the internet, it is estimated that a quarter of European citizens simply do not have access to it; the figure rises to almost one in two people when we look at the global population. In many countries, it is considered the vocation of schools to provide equal opportunities that will ensure that all children can realise their full potential and assume their role as active citizens in our highly digitised world. Yet in 2014, the OECD reported that just one in four of its member countries were providing an equitable level of access through their education system.

To the largest extent, technology remains an add-on to the core curricular subjects, and citizenship education in schools apparently scores even worse. Some countries are experimenting with a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) mechanism; however, this also raises equality and security issues of its own. While inclusion is important, we are rapidly realising that excluding malware and prying eyes is also a challenge that grows by the day (see Fact sheet on “Privacy and security”).

Limited educational opportunities and low income are proving to be major obstacles to access and inclusion in countries worldwide. Nevertheless, affordability and availability of technology are steadily improving, and the year 2016 showed a 21% increase over 2015 in terms of active internet users, compared to a surprisingly low rise of just 5% in mobile users.

Progress is much slower when it comes to ensuring inclusion for the world’s largest minority group: people with disabilities. According to the United Nations, 80% of people in this group live in developing countries. Technology has undeniably come a long way in adapting input and output devices to give the largest possible number of people access to the online world, but inclusion does not just require the physical barriers to be dismantled. The internet will not be fully inclusive until technology and our perception of diversity evolve to ensure that every citizen has equally effective access to every dimension of both on- and offline worlds. Inclusion depends on the full participation of every citizen and upon respect for their social, civil and educational rights. It is not limited to overcoming physical and cognitive disabilities but needs to span the full range of human diversity in terms of ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human differences.

How does it work?

Figure 5: Four steps underpinning the process of inclusionAccess and inclusion relate to the presence and participation of citizens in community life, be it on- or offline, and in activities that will permit them to realise their full potential in every sphere of their own life. Access and inclusion are part of a never-ending process within the social frameworks that regulate the way in which people live and evolve. This process requires them to continuously collate and analyse perceptions and evidence in order to identify obstacles to their inclusion or that of others, and to use their creativity and problem-solving skills to overcome these barriers. Access and inclusion are therefore ongoing evaluative processes that we all need to integrate into our way of being from the cradle onwards.

At the societal level, promoting inclusion is about reshaping social and educational frameworks so that they encourage and leave space for citizens to evolve. UNESCO’s Education for All programme provides some interesting insight into the four steps to societal change in this domain (see Figure 5: Four steps underpinning the process of inclusion). Digital citizenship is about contributing to speeding up this process in society. Can you think of ways that you can contribute in the areas where you think inclusion is currently not where it should be?

Figure 5: Four steps underpinning the process of inclusion


Educational and citizenship value

The internet offers access to a wealth of ideas, resources, learning opportunities and services for the digital citizen. The educational value is demonstrated when those users without access to traditional libraries can perform online research, or when those users with disabilities are able to fully engage in the benefits of the online environment thanks to additional devices and software that make accessibility a reality.

Raising awareness of inclusive practices – Core digital citizenship competencesInclusion calls on the values, attitudes, skills, and critical knowledge and understanding at the very heart of the developmental spiral of digital citizenship competences. By talking about inclusion issues in class or in relaxed family situations – especially around a board game or in a play context – we provide children of all ages with unique opportunities to express and test certain preconceived ideas in a safe space where they can be easily readjusted as their knowledge and understanding grows. This will help them progressively prepare to defend inclusion in more confrontational contexts such as the school playground, sports clubs and society in general.

Inclusion is now high on the European agenda, given ongoing discussions about refugee minors in Europe and the growing awareness that children/people with disabilities are often deprived of educational opportunities. Inclusion highlights the need to place importance on empathy, social-emotional learning, anti-bullying, and such like in the school curriculum in a more a sustainable approach to learning.

Figure: Raising awareness of inclusive practices – Core digital citizenship competences

In Fact sheet on “Ethics and empathy”, you will find some examples of activities that can support children to progressively develop certain digital citizenship competences in this way.