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CDE campaign | "How can the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child foster digital education?"

29.09.2023 | Author: Soledad Magnone

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Photo from virtual session at RightsCon for the JAAKLAC stand at Critical Digital Education for All.

The field of human rights and digital technologies, also defined as “digital rights”, has expanded and intensified in recent decades. Concerns about the implications of the digital transformation of societies and its acceleration during the COVID-19 pandemic were reflected in RightsCon 2023. That year, the largest international event organised by AccessNow dedicated to the field of digital rights, received the steepest increase in submissions in its 12 editions so far. The RightsCon agenda included issues of generative artificial intelligence, attacks on journalists and activists, political and corporate surveillance of human rights activists, border control and biometric systems, disinformation, and gender-based violence, among others.

While progress has been made on digital rights in terms of awareness, policy and advocacy, these issues still lag far behind. Amongst these, the vast absence of solutions related to children and adolescents’ rights has been particularly notable. This problem began to be highlighted more strongly in 2015, when the high representation of children under 18 years of age on the internet became evident (1 in 3 people). Such figures triggered debates about the minimum solutions to address the risks and opportunities that digitalisation meant for the younger generations.

Rights of children, adolescents and digital education

After the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the United Nations (UN) recognised that people under 18 years of age (children and adolescents) should have special considerations. Thus, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), one of the most widely ratified international treaties, was adopted in 1989. The CRC’s more than 50 articles are divided into three principles: provision, protection and participation. The importance of the CRC in digital solutions has been argued on the basis of its key role in realising ethical and holistic strategies. This was evidenced in a research I conducted on the digital agenda and children’s rights in Uruguay. Among the conclusions, education was highlighted as a right in itself and as an enabler of the three macro principles of the CRC.

In this article we use children’s rights as a framework for investigating advances and deficits in the right to digital education. For this, we were guided by some of the CRC articles highlighted by scholars in children’s rights and digital technologies. The scope of this exercise was limited to the main research, practices and resources of digital rights organisations in the region. While they may overlap, the actions were mapped onto the three pillars of the CRC. Hiperderecho, Fundación Internet Bolivia, Causas Digitales and JAAKLAC participated in this process. Below we share some of the results and reflections.

What does effective provision for children and adolescents in the digital age entail?

31. Recreation and leisure, 28. Education supporting children’s development to their full potential, 29. Preparing them for a responsible life in a free society, 17. Providing diverse materials for children’s social and cultural wellbeing.

Affordable access to digital technologies is a critical first step in bridging digital divides. The magnitude of the current effects of digital exclusion became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, when digital technologies mediated access to health, education, socialisation and well-being. To address some of these challenges in Ecuador, Conexión Educativa emerged. This organisation implemented a community network in Azuay to sustain education in that community during the pandemic in the absence of internet services. At the regional level, the JAAKLAC initiative conducted Glocal Mesh LAC, a research and toolkit with key findings on the intersections of human rights, internet, youth and community networks.

Beyond simple access to digital technologies, education is instrumental for an appropriation guided by people’s values and needs. This type of education is highly important in the face of the expansion of mobile phones and the widespread limitation of digital use to entertainment and social networking. Digital education has an instrumental role in making visible and developing a spectrum of knowledge, skills and values, beyond the use of tech for the development of the labour and economic markets. In this regard, Fundación Internet Bolivia promoted the educational programme Generaciones Futuras (Future Generations), based on international standards and combining digital talent with an intracultural, intercultural and plurilingual approach of the plurinational education system.

What does effective protection for children and adolescents in the digital age entail?

19. Against abuse and neglect, 34. Including sexual exploitation, 17e. Materials injurious to child’s wellbeing, 16. Interference of his/her privacy, family or correspondance, 8. Preserving his/her identity.

The field of protection is the one in which civil society organisations have been most active. These efforts have focused on various issues, such as feminism, migration and sex education in relation to digital technologies. Hiperderecho’s Conectad@s Sin Fronteras (Connected Without Borders) in Peru strengthened digital literacy to address misinformation affecting discrimination against Venezuelan people and to promote social cohesion. In Uruguay, JAAKLAC developed the Digital ESI educational guide with adolescents and adults to address sexual risks in digital environments through Comprehensive Sexuality Education. With a more holistic vision of gender diversity, Hiperderecho launched Acuerpándonos por una internet feminista (Coming together for a feminist internet), highlighting the importance of accompaniment, information and digital training to confront cyber patriarchy and build an internet that represents us.

And what does meaningful participation mean for children and adolescents in the digital age?

3. Best interest of children as a primary consideration, 12. Right to be consulted in all actions related to them, 13. Freedom of expression, 15. Freedom of association.

The participation of children and adolescents has been promoted in projects such as Latine Data Detox Saga and JAAKLAC’s No Minor Futures. For these, teenagers created character stories telling different digital experiences and recommendations on privacy, security, wellbeing and Artificial Intelligence, among others. Both projects designed processes for digital education and collaboration focused on younger generations. The stories, activities and lessons learned were shared in cyberactivism campaigns, along with blogs and podcasts published in different languages.

The possibilities for children and adolescents' freedom of expression also depend on assessing the risks of what this may entail. Latin America is one of the most dangerous regions for journalists and activists, so it is important to take into account the risks and strategies to prevent and mitigate them. For this reason, Hiperderecho created the Kit de Autocuidado para Activistas (Cyber-Care Kit for Activists), which includes different actions to defend oneself on the Internet through training and self-care. The kit places special emphasis on digital security to close participation gaps for women and LGBTQI+ people.

Quality education in the digital age encompasses a broad range of dimensions. These include aspects such as digital access, the appropriation of these tools for the best interest of individuals, and protection to ensure a universal participation for the common good. The CRC facilitates a comprehensive visualisation of the approaches and issues that have been promoted, the gaps and its influence in today’s digital societies. This article was a first essay inviting to expand its scope by analysing actions in digital education by different actors in the public, private, educational and civil society sectors.

Be part of the dialogue:

  • Connect with the other blogs, podcasts and activities of the Critical Digital Education for All campaign.

  • From 15 September on, we will publish the main results on the social networks of JAAKLAC (@jaaklac #EducacionDigital #DigitalEducation) and allied organisations.

  • On Saturday 16 September we organised a stand at the Feira Global Gathering. We will also share news, expanding conversations and partnerships to research, create and advocate for quality digital education.

  • We are waiting for you! We will be dynamically updating the website with links to blogs, podcasts and upcoming campaign activities.

Send us your ideas, questions or comments to jallalla [at] jaaklac [dot] org.