Anyone growing up in the last three or four decades have heard the often repeated cliché, “we live in a technological age.” Originally the technologies operated largely independent of one another. In the last two decades, however, there has been some sort of technological convergence. We have seen for instance the telecommunications, information technology and the media sectors come together and grow together.
The Internet is arguably the best example of technological convergence. And because of it we now live in a world of influential 24/7 media where you find all forms of entertainment technologies that can be quickly accessed by the world’s 3.2 billion people that are connected online including Nigeria’s 97 million subscribers. This interaction is changing the dynamics of families, schools, communities and even relationships. And it is noteworthy that every country around the world is experiencing in varying degrees the harmful consequences of our connection with digital technologies such as cyber attacks, cyber bullying, sexting, online scam among many others.
Thought leaders around the world know that technology users especially children need to be educated about the safe, savvy, ethical use of media and technology. They are in the front line of helping students become competent, critical and literate in all media forms, how the media works, how they are organized, how they produce meaning and how they construct reality.
Educators are also actively instructing their students about the basic elements of digital citizenship which focuses on appropriate and responsible use of digital media and technology.
For example, the idea of digital citizenship helps students to safely navigate the deep recesses of the digital world. It helps them not to plagiarize information on the internet, not to use wrong etiquette in email, text or other online communication, not to harass or bully others, respect, educate and protect themselves and others.
In countries in Europe and North America lack of instruction in digital citizenship and media literacy education has been said to contribute to public health concerns resulting in physical and psychological issues such as obesity, bullying and aggression, low self-esteem, depression, negative body image, risky sexual behavior, and substance abuse, among others.
Government however is trying to combat this scourge with measures such as the cyber crime act of 2015 which properly defines what cyber crime is and outlines legal consequences for those who break the law. The law outlines fines, jail terms and even the death penalty for various offences including cyber-stalking, cyber-bullying, child pornography, identity theft and all kinds of hacking including any system or network that has been designated critical national infrastructure. On its face value the act looks very impressive and many opinion leaders have even acknowledged it as the quintessential solution to all our cyber problems. But how do you explain or factor in the fact that cyber fraud attempts in the country have reportedly increased 1,000 times in the first half of 2016, that is, one year since the passing of the cyber crime act. You cannot. The fight must therefore be fought on some other fronts as well.
The act or the law can take care of those adults who are completely formed and set in their criminal ways but they should not be allowed to encourage or recruit vulnerable young people to join their ranks. This is why an initiative such as digital citizenship must be one of our first lines of defense against the scourge of cyber crimes. Stakeholders such as education administrators, parents, teachers, students, citizens and governments at all levels should work together to educate the youth about the ramifications of the responsible use of the internet as well as its intrinsic dangers.This would be a positive step in helping our youth become more responsible Nigerian and digital citizens who would use technology appropriately for the benefit of themselves as well as others. It cannot be repeated too often that our young people need digital citizenship and media literacy education to fully participate in today’s digital economy and culture. And the society, the country has a responsibility to provide a workable system of digital education that will safeguard and enrich their experience.
The time couldn’t be more propitious to start a conversation that will lead to the launch of digital citizenship curriculum in primary and secondary schools across the nation that will empower students to think critically and make knowledgeable choices about how they live and treat others in today’s digital world. It is also hoped that the idea of media literacy will go mainstream to benefit every Nigerian regardless of age or educational background.
Olayefun works for Abuja based, Resources in flow Ltd. a human, digital and natural resources company.
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the Nigerian Guardian on Friday, November 11, 2016.