Unlocking Digital Citizenship: Nurturing Responsible Online Behaviour in Students

Children of all ages have become increasingly confident navigators of the internet over the last two decades. In a recent Ofcom report published in March of this year, it was revealed that 97% of children in the UK aged between 5-17 went online in 2022, either at home or at school, with the figure only slightly lower for 3-4-year-olds at 87%. 

With impressionable minds at stake, then, and with technology’s seemingly unlimited scope for learning potential, there remains a fundamental responsibility for parents and educators to ensure that a young person’s online engagements are made safe—both at home and in the classroom.

There are nearly 2 billion active websites on the internet, and with such widespread access across the age groups—whether it’s via a desktop, laptop, or smart device—it may only take one visit to a malicious page to cause irrevocable harm to a young student. Indeed, despite the myriad of educational benefits of the internet, this ever-evolving digital landscape can be a perilous environment, especially for those unprepared or lacking the requisite tools to use it safely. 

So, as this generation of students stands at the forefront of education technology use, the role of digital citizenship has never been more crucial to help children understand the risks and consequences of their online activity.

girl using computer in school

What is Digital Citizenship?

Digital citizenship encompasses a range of skills and principles that enable individuals, particularly children, to engage effectively and responsibly in the digital world. This can take the shape of digital literacy, online safety, and embracing a universal ethical code.

Importantly, digital literacy encourages students to use online tools, evaluate content critically, and understand privacy settings—as well as the ability to equip themselves with the necessary skills to navigate digital platforms. As well as learning how to conduct online research, assess the credibility of sources, and discern between reliable and unreliable information, digital literacy also involves understanding the importance of protecting personal information. This can include the use of strong passwords, safe browsing habits, and being aware of the ever-present online threats of phishing attempts and malware.

Just as crucial, digital citizenship enables students to be mindful of the often catastrophic effects of cyberbullying and the strategies involved in its prevention—with the overarching aim to promote an online culture of inclusivity, respect, and safety. 

As outlined in The Digital Childhood Paper, written and created by Baroness Beeban Kidron, Founder of 5Rights and Dr. Angharad Rudkin from the University of Southampton, the principles of digital citizenship rest first with educators, parents, and digital service providers to offer the skills and software to engage safely with the internet and make the right choices while online.

child using laptop at home

Strategies for educating students on Digital Citizenship

Incorporating digital citizenship into the curriculum is a powerful way to ensure that students receive consistent and structured education on responsible online behaviour. By integrating digital citizenship lessons into existing subjects such as English and IT, educators can effectively engage students in discussions and activities related to safe technology use. 

Interactive English lessons, for instance, have been proven to be hugely effective learning platforms in which students can evaluate online sources and differentiate between credible and unreliable information. Meanwhile, with sufficient training and support, schools can use IT classes to teach students practical skills to safeguard their online experiences—everything from learning how to create strong passwords, recognising online threats, and understanding privacy settings. By integrating digital citizenship across various subjects, students develop a deep-rooted understanding of appropriate online behaviour.

Successful initiatives promoting Digital Citizenship

There have been a number of successful initiatives that have been able to effectively promote digital citizenship, both at home and in schools, and raise awareness about the dangers of irresponsible online practices.

Common Sense Media's Digital Citizenship Curriculum is a comprehensive resource that offers age-appropriate materials for educators and students. The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including online privacy, digital footprints, cyberbullying, media balance, and online communication. It provides lesson plans, videos, interactive activities, and assessment tools that engage students and facilitate meaningful discussions on online engagement. By utilising this curriculum, schools can ensure that digital citizenship education is integrated into standard teaching practices.

Safer Internet Day is a global initiative celebrated annually to promote online safety and responsible digital citizenship. Schools around the world participate in activities and discussions centred on digital safety, respect, critical thinking, and positive online behaviour. Safer Internet Day serves as an excellent opportunity for schools to emphasise the importance of cautious internet use, engage students in interactive workshops, and highlight the potential risks and challenges of the digital world

girl using school computer

The role of parents and guardians

Educating students on digital citizenship should not be limited to the school environment. Parents and guardians also play a crucial role in shaping their child's online behaviour and helping them become responsible digital citizens.

Discussions between parents and children about online safety, privacy, cyberbullying, and ethical behaviour can encourage students to make informed decisions and develop the necessary critical thinking skills to engage safely in the online environment. 

By establishing guidelines for screen time, social media usage, and online interactions, parents are able to set clear boundaries and help children maintain a healthy balance between online and offline activities. There is also a duty of care for parents and guardians themselves to demonstrate responsible online behaviour; being wary of the content they share and the wider implications of their digital footprint. Positive role models can help reinforce the importance of mindful online practices.

How can Computeam help?

Digital citizenship is a crucial aspect of ICT in education. Equipping students with the skills and knowledge to use the internet safely is essential for their academic and personal growth. By fostering digital literacy, online safety, and ethical digital practices, educators and parents can help students to become responsible digital citizens. 

Here at Computeam, we believe that tackling the ongoing challenges of internet safety for children relies on a focused, multifaceted approach from all parties. From teachers, governors and parents, to digital service and ICT providers. Our combined efforts and resources must be geared towards developing a secure online environment for children of all ages.  

We have years of experience and expertise in safeguarding networks and devices for use in schools, making use of cutting-edge software, technology and training services. From Securly, our sophisticated cloud-based solution that helps schools secure their networks and protect students' online activities, to providing the necessary training and support for teachers to effectively implement safe practices, Computeam will always find the right ICT solution for your education needs. If you’d like any help or advice on this fundamental issue, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Children in school uniform looking at laptops

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Posted on July 18th 2023

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