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The development of ethical citizenship in the digital age: everyone's business from elementary school and for life

Our collaborator Alexandre Chenette shares with us his vision of the development of ethical citizenship in the digital age. While the challenges of the digital age often elicit visceral and powerful emotional responses, it rather invites nuance.

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By Alexandre Chenette, teacher and educational advisor at the RÉCIT national service, field of personal development, special collaboration

Publication of the survey NETendances 2020 • The digital family in March 2021 confirmed what we already knew from experience: on average we have spent more time in front of our screens over the past year. Thanks to technology, we have been able to continue, not without a hitch, our professional and educational obligations. It seems that with each passing month, more and more powerful artificial intelligences are finding solutions to problems that could previously appear insurmountable to us. Without technology, we would never have been able to accomplish in such a short time the miracles which now allow millions of people to be immunized every day. However, despite all its current and future potential, digital technology also raises many important ethical issues.

We are told about personalization algorithms that accelerate and amplify the spread of disinformation. Chambers of echoes that come to consolidate and crystallize polarized opinions. Conspiracy ideas, radicalization, quasi-sectarian movements, the attack on a symbolic bastion of democracy, screen time, social media, self-image, algorithmic biases, intimidation in online, facial recognition, retention and monetization mechanisms in video games, addiction, anxiety, sleep loss, etc. The challenges of the digital age and their treatment in the media often elicit visceral and powerful emotional responses, such as anger and fear. 

Turn on lights rather than "pull the plug  "

Faced with this hurricane of worrying information, completely understandable reflexes of some parents and teachers could be punishment and prohibition. Nonetheless (and those who have experienced it will attest to this), these approaches often prove ineffective and tend rather to trigger a vicious circle where the young person seeks more to use roundabout means of accessing digital technology, without having had the right to do so. opportunity to reflect and develop autonomy. These moralizing responses also undermine the significant emancipatory potential of digital technology. It is now an integral part of our lives and it is a safe bet that it will be the same for years to come, whether we are techno or not.

I have personally had the pleasure of teaching high school ethics and philosophy to exciting and passionate young people for over 10 years. Since 2018, I have also been fortunate to be part of the RÉCIT national service team, in the field of personal development (RÉCIT DP). Based on the work of Benoit Petit (Developing citizenship in the digital age: portrait of the situation in Quebec and recommendations), we invited Quebec to a paradigm shift in what was called at the time the " Digital citizenship "(digital citizenship). Our approach, called "Citizenship in the era digital ”(CÈN), rather invites nuance, a pause to take a critical distance in the face of the moral panics of the moment, to deepen, to reflect, to compare points of view, to evaluate the impacts in order to be able, independently, to take more informed and less impulsive decisions. By developing cognitive skills like critical thinking and socio-emotional skills like empathy, we seek to empower (empower) rather than ban so that digital technology becomes a lever for human development rather than a tool of enslavement. 

In April 2019, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education of Quebec (MEES) made our dimension "Ethical Citizen" the heart of the Reference framework for digital competence, thus setting an important precedent for this type of exercise. Since then, we have been working with other teachers, educational advisers and school administrators to put it into action throughout the primary and secondary school network. As for the Montreal Declaration for the Responsible Development of Artificial Intelligence, Quebec has become a pioneer and a model in digital ethics for various countries in Europe and elsewhere. Now, American organizations like DigCitCommit are also committed to this empowering redefinition of the digital citizenship.

A growing movement

The major upheavals linked to the pandemic first highlighted and then exacerbated several inequalities and digital challenges. The popular documentary The Social Dilemma (Behind Our Smoke Screens, Netflix), despite his tone shockumentary questionable, has made thousands of people aware of the magnitude of the challenges. More and more people understand the importance and urgency of addressing these issues. In recent weeks, several high schools have been committed to making the development of ethical citizenship in the digital age a priority by rallying the entire school team (students, teachers, professionals, managers, parents, etc.). These kinds of projects are really inspiring and I hope more and more schools will follow suit in the fall. The NEC is simply too essential to be worn by only a few motivated teachers. 

Which brings me to the reason for this text. By reading the article " Youth bullying on the rise with online courses », I wanted to appeal to everyone so that, from primary school onwards, students can begin to develop their ethical citizenship in the digital age, with their teachers first but also with their parents, their grown-ups. -parents, etc. In 2021, waiting until secondary school to start developing these skills and tackling these issues is not "too late" (better late than never) but imagine the impact if we could make them think from their first experiences. with digital technology, which they experience more and more young. 

For as many primary school teachers as possible to get started, I think it is essential to clarify that developing the NEC is not extra work. As a teacher, we are sufficiently overwhelmed at the moment. Our yard is full. No, on the contrary, these issues can be addressed in French, in the social world, in ECR, in English, in math, in the arts, in physical education, etc. In short, in all the disciplines already taught in the Quebec school training program. In addition, the role of a full teacher in the primary classroom model leaves room for superb opportunities for interdisciplinarity. So if you know any elementary school teachers or parents, kindly share this article with them. Many will be proud to point out that they are already developing citizenship in the digital age in an empowering way with their students or children. Others may feel challenged and want to do it. We will never be too many ...

Let's unite to think together

The small RÉCIT DP team will continue to support the school network and develop learning activities free and self-supporting for the classroom, in person or from a distance, as we have been doing relentlessly since the start of the pandemic. But the richest and most relevant activities for students will always be those that their teachers will give them through their planning. We are always in the best position when it comes to our students' learning.

To conclude, I also believe that the development of ethical citizenship in the digital age must continue beyond the school environment. It is a social project. In the age of biotechnology and artificial intelligence, the most important human question of this generation is and will be "How to be an ethical citizen in the digital age?" ". 

So, beyond families, I invite society as a whole to make it a priority. Because ultimately, we are often alone in front of our screens. I don't believe it's the bans and reprimands that will actually guide our behavior online. Let us collectively become more autonomous with digital technology, the coming decades will depend on it. The most cynical have already left the boat, but my experience with the ardor and idealism of young people pushes me to keep faith in humanity. If we all work in the same direction, I believe that we are collectively capable of it ...

Sapere Aude!

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Photo credit: Photo of Mckela taylor on Unsplash

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