Children and youths are amongst the biggest users of online and mobile technologies. Whilst we undertake every effort to ensure the safety and well being of ourselves and others in the real world, the same has to be done in the virtual world. Statistics gathered from a research carried out with students aged 11 to 14 between 2014 and 2015 has shown that up to 72% of Maltese youths between the ages of 11 and 12 have a Facebook profile, although this is against the rules of the popular social networking site. More than 90% of youths between the ages of 13 and 14 also make heavy use of social networking and 56% have internet access on their smartphones.
The BeSmartOnline! project which is co-funded by the European Commission, has the aim of raising awareness and educate children and young people, parents, carers and educators on the safer use of the Internet by children. The project in Malta is implemented through a consortium which is coordinated by the Malta Communications Authority and includes the Foundation for Social Welfare Services, the Office of the Commissioner for Children and also Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education. With the funding obtained through the project, the PSCD Education Officers in collaboration with the PSCD peripatetic teachers have developed three different workbooks entitled Communicating respectfully, Choosing wisely, and Making good use of digital technology for year 3,4 and 5 students respectively.
The aim of the workbooks is that of developing digital citizenship 21st century skills from a very young age. The workbooks which are interactive, fun and thought provoking are an important tool being used by PSCD teachers so that students learn how to communicate and collaborate safely and responsibly online. Comparison between online and offline citizenship is emphasised within the workbooks to ensure that students are made aware that the virtual community to which they belong also has its rules and regulations.
With the aid of these workbooks various areas related to digital citizenship education are being explored since children and youths, most often than not, embrace technology without examining the consequences of what they post, search or download. Therefore emphasis on the importance of protecting one’s private information, communicating respectfully, being careful on what one posts are all given their due importance. Importance is also given to the creation of online personas that project a positive and constructive image, how to prevent, protect and report cyberbullying and how students look up, select, and streamline information from the internet and thus choose authentic sources of information.
The workbooks are a proactive way on how to deal with engagement of students with the digital world. The workbooks are an excellent tool to help students acquire the necessary skills that include amongst others media literacy skills and communication and critical skills.
The BeSmartOnline! project is co-funded by the European Commission and is implemented through a consortium which is coordinated by the Malta Communications Authority and includes the Foundation for Social Welfare Services, the Office of the Commissioner for Children and also Directorate for Quality and Standards in Education.