Speaking at the opening of the National Youth Council of Ireland’s Screenagers conference today in the Science Gallery, Dublin, Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, TD, addressed the need for education and infrastructure to keep abreast of the needs of today’s digital natives, and the role they themselves can play in educating older generations.
Rabbitte pointed to research from Dr Brian O’Neill (who is also speaking at the event) as part of the EU Kids Online project, noting that the fact that Irish children and young people are often not progressing to more creative activities online is something that needs to be addressed.
The Minister believes young people could have a key role to play in educating older generations on how to get online. “I know many young people – perhaps many of the young people you work with – have made an important contribution to national digital inclusion efforts. Many transition-year students are involved in initiatives like Log On, Learn, providing basic internet training to older people – or to their peers,” he said.
Rabbitte went on to encourage the youth workers present to seek ways to engage young people in this way, noting the rewarding feeling they will receive from taking part in such projects. “There may be opportunities to encourage more young people to impart some of the digital skills they have to others. For those that may need support there are online resources available – including course notes and tips for trainers at sites like GetYourFolksOnline.ie,” he said.
Investing in education
Rabbitte addressed the need for education that can accommodate and best serve a generation of digital natives, and cited infrastructural improvements coming to enable this. “I was really pleased to be able to announce earlier this year, the roll out of 100Mb broadband to every second-level school – all will be connected by 2014,” he declared.
“With the infrastructure in place, the technology accessible, and the guidance of progressive educators, we will have the potential to ensure that ICT will play a central role in the development of the digital citizens of the future. I very much hope that those facilities – including their industrial-strength internet connectivity will also be available to the informal education sector and the wider community,” Rabbitte added.
Dangers of digital media
Overall, Rabbitte conveyed an attitude that digital media should be part of everyone’s learning, but he also addressed some of the dangers of digital media to young people today. Particularly, he broached the topic of cyberbullying, which will be discussed at today’s conference with a talk from Prof Mona O’Moore, director of the Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Trinity College Dublin.
“In my opinion, it seems to be a complex issue – one that should be tackled from different angles – focusing on the perpetrators and on the victims,” said Rabbitte. “In tackling the issue we will need to ensure that all young people have the skills they need in terms of social and digital interaction.”