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Let's get digital: Preparing youth for living in a post-human future

Thu, March 26, 10:00 to 11:30am, Hyatt Regency Miami, Floor: Lobby (Level 1), South Hall

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session (English)

Proposal

The global landscape is shifting to “post-human futures,” which encompass an increasingly digital world – a world that will predominantly affect today’s youth. Automation and digital technology have introduced a shift in the skills required for youth success in a more digital workplace. Online media and social networks have resulted in a “post-factual” digital environment, within which youth are subject to misinformation and manipulation. Addictive properties of social media and technological devices has led to less face-to-face human interaction, which bears both positive and negative consequences for mental health. The digital landscape has made room for new forms of civic engagement, one which youth require new skills to be able to navigate.
This panel presentation brings together the expertise of four groups to address these challenges to youth preparedness for life in a digital world. As algorithms and machine learning gain increasing significance for human futures – from determining information flows and consumer preferences, to shaping identities and conversations – skills to regain agency and navigate this complex environment become key. The panelists will talk about the need to evolve education so it prepares youth to thrive and be productive, well informed, and able to build and maintain peaceful, just, and incisive societies.

According to McKinsey Global Institute (2017), by 2030 more than one-third of activities could be automated for 60% of occupations, and 50 million new technology jobs may be created. To avoid being locked out of a growing digital economy, youth worldwide need to acquire the skills and knowledge demanded by key growth industries – many of which will require the use of technology.

EDC’s J.P. Morgan Chase-funded AWARE2 (2016-2019) project in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand worked to address this skills gap, by targeting secondary and post-secondary TVET youth to prepare them for inclusion in the emerging digital economy. Elements of AWARE2’s work include teacher professional development, school-based soft skills education, work-based and virtual work-based learning, innovation bootcamps, and industry-led classes.

AWARE2’s M&E team developed the Employability for the Digital Economy tool (EDE), to measure youth’s understanding of the digital economy and digital skills, and their meta-cognition and self-efficacy in a digital workplace, based on the USEM Model of Employability developed by Yorke and Knight (2004). AWARE2’s representative at this panel will present the project’s successes in preparing youth for the digital economy, particularly focusing on the measurement of youth’s preparedness for work in a digital world through the EDE tool.

According to Pew Research Center 95% of teens [in the US] have access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online “almost constantly”. At the same time, Stanford University research in 2016 demonstrated that youth are easily fooled by misinformation, especially when it comes through social media channels. The disconnect between the amount of information young people consume online and their ability to process it has negative consequences for many aspects of their lives from general wellbeing to academic success, social interactions, dialogue, decision-making, and eventually polarization and radicalization.

IREX’s Learn to Discern (L2D) approach bridges this gap by providing interactive, practical, and effective awareness and skill building to young people in countries such as Ukraine, Serbia, Tunisia, and Georgia that help them deference fact from option and manipulative content from objective reporting. L2D teaches resilience to misinformation skills that also include recognition and rejection of hate speech, understanding of how social media algorithms seek to maximize engagement by leveraging biases and emotions, and what youth can do to develop healthy and responsible digital engagement habits. IREX is piloting integration of these skills into education system in Ukraine and has evidence of positive and long-lasting impact.

The ubiquitous, and sometimes addictive nature of social media, gaming, and other forms of digital engagement have led to concerns about their impact on adolescents’ physical and emotional wellbeing. A recent US study showed a 53% increase in depressive symptoms among adolescents in the last decade, and an increase in suicidality among young adults (Twenge et al., 2019). These cohort effects, not seen in older adults, coincide with the emergence of social media and raise questions about how we can simultaneously prepare and protect youth in an increasingly digital world.

EDC’s MetroWest Adolescent Health Survey, a biennial survey of 40,000 youth, has studied online behavior since 2006, documenting not only an increase in cyberbullying, but also associations of social media with mental health problems, from stress and anxiety to suicidality. This research also examines associations of social media and gaming with inadequate sleep, substance use, and poor school outcomes. In addition to highlighting these concerning links, the EDC representative will provide data on adolescents’ positive and negative attitudes towards social media use, with a focus on how we can minimize its harmful effects while bolstering adolescents’ use of online communications to support their well-being and enhance the communities around them.

Effective civic education focuses not only on building civic knowledge but on strengthening civic skills and fostering civic dispositions as well. The 2016 IEA International Civic and Citizenship Education study conducted in 24 countries found that “students’ civic knowledge and self-efficacy as well as student’s beliefs were consistent predictors of expected electoral and active political participation.” In the U.S., the 2017 paper The Republic is (Still) at Risk—and Civics is Part of the Solution noted that effective civics in the 21st century must prepare students for a world of social rather than print media, equip students to navigate a polarized society facing complex challenges, and engage a diverse generation.

Street Law emphasizes these three core elements of civic education—knowledge, skills, and dispositions. In this presentation Street Law will discuss how its materials guide students to apply foundational concepts to public issues influenced by a digital world. These include freedom of speech in the context of cyber bullying and online hate speech. The presentation will showcase how Street Law’s student-centered approach fosters essential skills and democratic dispositions. It will discuss how these skills and dispositions are even more necessary when social media and polarized rhetoric increasingly shape political discussions.

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