Is SA Doing Enough to Empower its Young People as “Digital Citizens”?

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Even if you’ve got your house kitted out with all the latest smart tech, understand blockchains and NFTs, and can’t wait to explore the metaverse, chances are your kids will be even more adept with technology than you are.

No matter how strict you are with screen time, they’re going to overtake you at some point. Quite aside from the fact that their first interactions with technology have been more advanced than our own, children are inherently more curious and less afraid to try new things.

But being comfortable and adept with technology doesn’t automatically result in good digital citizens. Even if a child knows how to get everything they want out of a device or online experience, it doesn’t mean they understand things like privacy, security and the importance of critical thinking in the online world.

Greg Gatherer, Account Manager, Liferay Africa.

In that context, it’s important to ask whether we’re doing enough to empower young people as digital citizens. Doing so is obviously crucial for anyone wanting to raise happy, well-adapted children. And from a macro perspective, being able to use digital technologies ethically and responsibly will be crucial if South Africa is to achieve its ambition of being a digitally transformed economy.

The Current State of Play

When it comes to understanding how things currently stand, it’s worth taking a look at the DQ Institute’s Child Online Safety Index (COSI). According to the most recent version of the index, South Africa has an average ranking when it comes to online child safety, with the United States and New Zealand immediately above it and Ecuador and Peru immediately below it.

It is, however, a long way away from world leaders such as Spain and Australia.

More specifically, South Africa struggles when it comes to factors such as cyber risks, guidance and education, and connectivity. Cyber risks include things like cyberbullying, disordered use of technology, risky content and contacts, cyber threats, and reputational risks. Guidance and education, meanwhile, refers to parental guidance and online safety education. That said, it does better than average on factors such as digital competency and social infrastructure.

Modelling Behaviour and Education

When it comes to addressing the areas where South Africa is weakest, it’s likely that the connectivity situation will improve organically. With the long-overdue digital migration finally underway, the spectrum will be freed up. That, in turn, will allow telcos to reduce the cost of data and bring high internet speeds to more people, especially in rural areas.

As for improving the status quo around cyber risks and guidance education, we all have a role to play. The state and private sectors should both communicate extensively when it comes to cyber risks. It’s also something that should be baked into the broader curriculum, starting from a basic level and moving up from there.

Given that 60% of children between the age of eight and 12 who are online globally are exposed to cyber risks, it’s something that simply can’t be ignored.

But it’s also important that parents empower themselves. As they become more digitally intelligent, they’ll be in a much better position to ensure that their children’s online behaviour is safe and responsible. That includes everything from educating them about cybercrime to speaking openly with them about cyberbullying and modelling healthy behaviours when it comes to screen time.

Why We Are All Digital Citizens

Ultimately, we have to realise that we’re all digital citizens in one way or another. And looking at where South Africa’s youngest digital citizens are, should give us all pause for reflection. Can organisations, for example, really talk about digital transformation if their employees aren’t empowered to be the best possible digital citizens they can be? It’s why companies that facilitate real digital transformation don’t just focus on technology, but on mindsets within the organisation.

While there should undoubtedly be concerted efforts at ensuring young people are the safest, most responsible citizens they can be, they shouldn’t be the only ones targeted. Every effort should be made to ensure that digital South African citizens not only have access and skills, but are also able to make ethical, safe, and responsible decisions online.

But we also all have a responsibility to be the best digital citizens we can be, not just for our own sake but for those of our fellow citizens too.


By Greg Gatherer, Account Manager, Liferay Africa.

Edited by Luis Monzon
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