Democracy is at risk when citizens forget their worth. The increasing distrust of institutions and the increasing digital world spreading disinformation result in fragmented societies and citizens who do not participate. Detachment, doubt, and absorption of polarizing facts reach today’s youth on which future democracies will be based. Young people no longer take part in traditional civic activities and take up political content online, often without understanding the socio-political context or knowing which information can be trusted. The limited availability and effectiveness of basic citizenship education and minimal preoccupation with critical digital literacy skills are worrying. We should be more concerned than ever about the future of democracy.
Research and surveys show that teens find their news online and turn to the internet to share their views on social and political issues. They often write political articles or blogs to share on social media. Since unregulated social media is the source of civic and political information, it degrades quality and spreads disinformation. Research shows that too much information made possible by a massive increase in online availability can lead people to make worse decisions and even vote against their preferences. Relying on social media for information can lead to skewed understandings and beliefs about political events, especially given the fact that bad actors spread disinformation to disrupt and cause conflict in democracies.
With teens becoming more connected online, one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disinformation is one of the best ways to tackle digital literacy gaps. The Canadian government argues that their best defense against interference with democratic processes is “an engaged and informed public”. Research has shown that “media literacy training can be effective in reducing prejudice and improving people’s ability to assess the truthfulness of information.”
To address the digital age of disinformation, media literacy training is being widely implemented to improve online habits. Examples like in Canada MediaSmarts Enabling Canadians to critically evaluate digital media tailored for adolescents, parents, educators and the general public. It contains online resources for teachers to apply digital literacy resources in their classrooms, tailored to the grade levels of the curriculum. Multi-component investments in support of digital, news and citizen literacy programs such as Canada’s Digital Citizenship Initiative Help citizens apply key skills from online news and editorials, and watch out for exploitative activity and disinformation. Initiatives like this are simplified and user-friendly and can be easily taught in school. However, teachers in Canadian schools have considerable autonomy in setting curriculum goals, so digital literacy and civic education across the country are highly fragmented in quality.
Understanding the socio-political context and how democratic governments work is crucial for young people to be able to critically evaluate information online. Results from Australia’s last two national assessment programs – Citizenship and Citizenship (NAP-CC) – found that only 38 percent of 10th grade students had measured a proficient understanding of democratic systems, government, and their duties and rights as citizens. These results have declined 44 percent since 2013. Similarly, polls in Canada show that youth do not view conventional democratic duties like voting as a civic duty like older generations do. In Europe, a study found that 16-26 year olds from 27 national and ethnic groups chose not to “engage with conventional policies because they felt they had no voice, were being ignored by politicians and not about them Resources or the resources possessed competencies that are required to become politically active. ”
Most democracies, including Australia and Canada, offer citizenship courses in primary and secondary education. The problem could only be how we as educators and parents teach young people how important it is to be civic. Citizen competence is not only a school-led “civic education”, but was previously taught and promoted in families, places of worship, social groups and in the workplace. “Social groups, community groups and schools today may hesitate to teach civic literacy for fear of being criticized as being too“ political ”or“ biased ”. As well as concern about creating divisions among members.
Parents play a role in domestic life in order to make future generations feel important. Citizenship competence is passed on from generations, with parents modeling civic engagement through voting and discussing political and social events at home. Political socialization in early life “has a strong impact on the level of civic literacy one has as an adult.” Studies have found “significant correlations between civic education, democratic knowledge and family engagement” in civic activities for young people who later actively participate in civic and political movements and show an interest in social issues.
Civic education programs for youth should highlight participation, dialogue and experience in solving problems using their unique values, interests and skills in order to become active citizens. Participatory and experiential methods of teaching politics and government could be highlighted as an extension of models that convey civic and fundamental facts. Forms of participant-led engagement are becoming increasingly popular in universities and organizations. For example, Democracy Talks, led by Ryerson University’s Democratic Engagement Exchange, support community groups to host political discussions and community members to discuss what is important to them and what they want from their political systems. Models could also take place after democracy hackathons, bringing regional school groups together for a day of brainstorming and exchanging ideas to address local issues that young people are concerned about.
Lessons from the pandemic have taught us how digital technology can help with learning. For example, the Australian Museum of Australian Democracy (MoAD) offers experiences in the form of exhibits, events, educational programs and digital activities to learn about Australian history and the foundations of its democracy. The virtual method made it possible to continue programming during the pandemic and offer a range of democracy podcasts and live stream videos with downloadable educational activities.
Since technology is an integral part of young people’s lives, gamification methods could be used to find a way to attract attention and curiosity. Gamification tries to combine games with governance on the grounds that “games make dealing with this process fun” and enables creative and innovative possibilities to be considered in a “safe and irrelevant space”. Much research has been done on the use of gamification to involve citizens in local government decisions such as urban development, and the resulting increase in the enablement, involvement and empowerment of citizens in policy making. Digitally activated engagement for young people through gamification methods can have even more profound effects on participation and interest in democratic governance.
If we want democratic values to be preserved, we have to pay attention to how committed our youth are. Since the Internet is the source of information on socio-political content, the ability to critically evaluate information on the Internet must be emphasized. In addition, traditional learning methods about how governments and democratic societies work no longer lead to civic engagement and empowerment. Finding participatory and student-led teaching methods can help youngsters see their impact on democratic practices and re-awaken their curiosity to be active citizens of their communities. The future of our democracies depends on our youth’s understanding and experience of it.
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