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Can digital safety become part of school curriculum?

2nd August 2021
YLAC
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Image credit: The New York Times

The internet, once a bastion of youthful creativity, now threatens to diminish young lives. Teen suicide rates in the US have risen sharply since 2009, especially among young girls. The prevalence of major depression among young girls has risen from 12% in 2011 to 20% in 2017. Studies have shown that higher use of social media is linked to higher suicide risk, especially among girls.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt traces the origin of this trend to the introduction of the ‘like’ and ‘retweet’ buttons in 2008-09, both serving as symbols of public validation. While India lacks granular data, early evidence is worrying. For example, a survey found that one in every four adolescents in UP has experienced depression, which is correlated with higher use of social media. A mental health crisis is potentially lurking around the corner, and India’s youth need to form healthier relationships with their digital lives.

To counter this rising threat, educations across the globe have begun introducing digital citizenship and safety programs in school curricula. For example, Digital Citizenship Program is an online course developed by CommonSense.org and is used by 60 percent of schools and over 1 million teachers in the US. Singapore’s DQ World Program is a self-learning course received by over 25,000 students in 42 schools and resulted in a 15 percent reduction in risky online behaviour.

Indian schools have remained largely untouched by these innovations, but that might be about to change thanks to the Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). YLAC is launching Digital Champions, an eight-week, assisted-learning module on digital safety that it will pilot with schools in Tier-II cities of India.

The course will be fully online and have eight modules that cover topics like digital safety, literacy, well-being, and agency. The students can take each module, lasting an hour, at their own pace. Teachers at the schools will be trained to answer questions and evaluate students’ progress. 

The course is intended to help high school students form healthier and safer relationships with social media. The fulcrum of the content will be a 3-4-minute informative video, which will be aided by weekly challenges, interactive presentations, reflection sessions, and assessments. In addition, the course will encourage each of them to become ambassadors of digital safety in their communities, by having conversations with their families and neighbours. Students who complete the course will receive a certificate, and two randomly chosen participants from each school will also win android tablets. YLAC has designed the course keeping in mind lessons from the youth capacity-building programs that it has run in 17 cities across India and Nepal since 2016.

Incorporating digital safety into the school curriculum can provide scale instantly and engage our digital citizens at an impressionable age. Doing so will accelerate our path to a safe digital society that protects not just the students but also the entire community they come from.

To find out more about YLAC, go to www.theylacproject.com.

This is the fifth of a seven-part series on new ideas to make every Indian feel empowered and safe online. The earlier post featured:

I) World Comics India which is running workshops that train participants to express themselves through grassroots comics and draw out their experiences with the mobile phone
II) Point of View which is developing MeraDost, a platform that gives low-income women daily digital safety information as well as providing them with a helpline service for harassment and fraud
III) Centre for Internet and Society which is bringing together researchers, activists, and stakeholders to create an alternative content moderation system to help individuals, especially young girls, to have healthier personal feeds on social media platforms
IV) Tech4Dev which is developing Glific, an open-source WhatsApp-based communication platform that non-profits can use to seamlessly and efficiently reach their customers

Coming up next week:
Mythos Labs: A social enterprise that uses media and technology to promote positive narratives and online safety.