Children’s Rights in the Digital World

I’ve been thinking about Student Voice quite a bit lately.  Not just on a theoretical level, but because about a month ago when confronted with a social media problem because of Yik Yak, a student really pushed my thinking about the topic and then a group of student leaders set about tackling the issue in a way that was very different from the strategies we adults came up with.  Our District also organized a Student ED Tech day whereby student teams from 52 schools came forward and are so excited to have a leadership role within their school.

So when the Unicef and Young and Well Cooperative Research Center report, Children’s Rights in the Digital World came across my Twitter feed (Thanks Donna Fry & Tina Zita), I was immediately drawn in.  The report was created in partnership with the University of Western Sydney, The Berkman Center for Internet for Internet & Society at Harvard University, Digitally Connected, Unicef, and Voices of Youth.  It summarizes the findings of a total of 17 organizations in 16 countries which ran workshops with 148 children in eight languages. (page 20).

One of the key questions explored by the report is:

How can we give children and young people voice in the debate that explores the impact of digital access and use and their rights?

This first page, in particular, caught my attention:



Ensuring that all children are safe online requires approaches that promote digital literacy, resilience and cyber savvy. It is only in partnership that we can reach consensus on how to create a safe, open, accessible, affordable and secure digital world. Critically, children and young people’s profound insight must help inform, shape and drive this goal – which needs to focus on equity of access, safety for all, digital literacy across generations, identity and privacy, participation and civic engagement (page 6).  (emphasis added)

The following are some of the big ideas from the report with a few of my own guiding questions.  The report itself can be found here and is worth a closer look as many of the issues (as we know) are very complex. 01 Right of access (1)

  • What are the District and school policies in place to ensure the right of access for students?
  • If access and equity are a concern, what are the work-arounds that might be put in place to ensure that the dignity of students is not compromised? (i.e. school libraries, community access, signing out school devices, etc…)
  • Where equity of access is a concern, are there non-tech, comparable choices? Are feelings of exclusion being addressed?
  • What solutions might students come up with to address this issue?

02 Most Common uses

  • Do District leads, teachers, and parents automatically presume that students are using digital media negatively?
  • Are we addressing concerns about the negative impact upon children’s rights in a way that doesn’t discount the common purposes children see as positive?
  • Is there an opportunity for students to share how they use technology with parents or teachers so as to build a common understanding?

03 Literacy is fundamental

  • Is Literacy narrowly defined by our District based on what can be measured by a standardized test, or does it also include:

Technical literacy – being able to successfully navigate technologies with technical skills?Media literacy – understanding the opportunities new technologies can open up; working knowledge of available platforms; capacity to make judgements about the quality and reliability of online sources?                                                                                                 Social literacy – an understanding of the social norms that apply in online settings? (page 35)

  • Can we help students to develop digital media etiquette and self-regulation  if we don’t allow devices to be used in school or if we block access (given equity and access issues are addressed)?

04 Risk Narrative Predominant

  • Do Districts recognize the complexity of the risk, harm and safety of online settings?  Is time and opportunity given for deep discussion about how to address this complexity?  Are students invited to the table for these discussions?
  • What are the policies in place that ensure the safety and well-being of students?
  • Do the resources chosen and approaches taken focus on positive Digital Leadership (via George Couros) or fear-mongering  when it comes to the use of technology?
  • What insight do students have about keeping safe online?

05 No Online-Offline Binary (2)

  • Are adults making judgements about online and offline spaces based on their own past experiences?
  • What insights might students have into this topic?

06 Balancing Risk with Opportunity

  • Are Districts modelling critical thinking and higher order evaluative skills in their Professional Learning opportunities?
  • Is there an emphasis on evaluation, curation and creation when using technology in the classroom or does it stay at the acquisition of content knowledge level?
  • Is District access open or closed?  What conversations need to be had around filters vs real-life lessons in digital, media, and social literacy?
  • What insights might students have on this topic?

07Self Actualisation

  • How are we empowering students to “formulate and experess their own “collective framings of technology and its impacts on both their everyday lives and the social world more broadly?” (page 42)
  • Are we empowering children to take responsibility for their own digital practices by making digital media a part of both formal and informal learning?

This report recalls to me the work of the Student Advisory Council of Ontario and the need to engage students as partners in learning.


As a system leader I know I will bring some of these questions forward as we continue to work with teachers  to use technology to enable learning.  Would love to hear other perspectives and points of view on the topic!


Third, Amanda, et al., ‘Children’s Rights in the Digital Age: A Download from Children Around the World’, Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Melbourne, 2014.

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