The Council of Europe (CoE) organised a videoconference with about 260 participants entitled “Digital Citizenship Education Days” on 3-4 November 2020 in conjunction with the États généraux du numérique pour l’éducation organised by the French Ministry of National Education, Youth and Sports on 4-5 November 2020. The videoconference brought together education policy makers and practitioners including various educators and school administrators from around Europe. The videoconference aimed to raise awareness of digital citizenship education and present the work of the CoE’s in this field. Having been part of the expert group that developed the CoE Recommendations on Digital Citizenship Education and the draft Guidelines on partnerships between schools and the private sector, Parents International was invited to contribute on parental engagement as active citizenship and its implications for school policies.
According to the organisers, the COVID-19 crisis has shown us all how much useful digital technologies can be useful to learn, to work, or for instance to keep in contact with friends and family while their misuse has given rise to fake news, caused cyberbullying, increased well-being problems due to more screen time, lack of social contact and anxiety. Thus, a global reflection about digital citizenship is more necessary than ever. Societies need citizens who are educated and prepared to face current and future challenges in a world in which there is no distinction or boundary between online and offline.
In our contribution, we elaborated on why parental engagement is beneficial and necessary, what kind of citizenship education approach we consider the right one and how we see parental engagement in digital citizenship education. We also summarised how it should be reflected in school policies.
You can watch the recording of the whole conference here:
Plenary (Welcome and Keynotes): https://primetime.bluejeans.com/a2m/events/playback/15bf80bd-2c8d-44ad-98da-4ca6dcb299c1
Plenary (Conclusions): https://primetime.bluejeans.com/a2m/events/playback/15bf80bd-2c8d-44ad-98da-4ca6dcb299c1
Plenary (DCE Survey, Draft report of the conference and closing): https://primetime.bluejeans.com/a2m/events/playback/41c9e01e-8ecc-49da-9712-f029203f7c6b
Parental engagement is crucial in all necessary education transformation for three reasons. The first one is legal: parents have the right and responsibility to choose the education that is beneficial for their children’s development according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and thus must be engaged in policy and practice change. The second is that research clearly proves the primary role of parents as educators, having the largest impact on learning outcomes regardless of the level of education of parents. The third reason is that while school systems are struggling to engage parents with low or very high socio-economic status, engagement in the digital citizenship transformation can lead to the engagement of these group. On the one hand, parents bring the real world to school, and very high SES parents are often the decision makers and large employers with a high stake in education transformation. When it comes to digital technologies, certain marginalised groups, for example migrants are often much more competent users than average, thus this topic is a way of starting to engage them as well.
When we talk about digital citizenship education, we would like to focus on trust and responsibility as main drivers rather than having a rights-focused discourse only. We believe that citizenship education should be a learning-by-doing process happening in a democratic school, teachers, parents and students alike have their responsibility being part of decision making and implementation. In the school environment it is – or at least should be – a low-risk learning process, and recent events clearly show that teachers and parents alike have a lot to learn in this field, not only students.
The CoE categorises active digital citizenship as three main domains: being online, well-being online and rights online. We have also highlighted the need for parental engagement per domain.
In the Being online field, first of all parental engagement in school activities is crucial for the school to understand the realities their students live in. It also provides a great opportunity for mutual, partnership-based learning. Children often more competent in technology use, and thus adults must not shy away from learning from them. A parent working in IT, law or other relevant fields may be way more competent is many sub-domains than the teacher. The main stakeholders can not only learn from each other, but it is also absolutely crucial to establish the rules of the ‘game’ together. This is why we welcome so much the draft guidelines – that hopefully will soon not only be draft – on partnership between schools and private companies, engaging the parents and students in the process, too. This also links us to the well-being element. If rules of technology use (eg. defining when you can expect a reply for a message sent at 10 pm) are defined and enforced together, it will lead to higher levels of well-being in all stakeholder groups.
For protecting rights online, we see an absolute necessity for tackling online and offline as a continuum. We need to have clear and open communication about all rights, responsibilities and duties -regardless them being related to online or offline activities and different stakeholder groups. Schools and school professionals, however, have a professional responsibility for supporting parents if necessary to become conscious of their responsibility for the education of their children. At the same time, we also know from research that teachers still need a lot of support in order to understand their role as co-educators and co-learners, and to consider the empowerment of parents as a peer support activity.
With regards to well-being online we wanted to highlight one element so well depicted in airplane security demonstrations. Well-being of teachers and parents is a necessary pre-requisite to support children in their well-being, so we need to focus on the “oxygen mask” to be put on the adults first.
The organisers asked us to provide examples of schools training and/or empowering parents, so we have introduced 4 programmes: ELICIT+, ParentHelp, Open School Doors and Parent’R’Us.
To finish with, we have summarised the impact of the above on school policies. It can be summarised in two main points: good legislation and appropriate funding schemes in order to make parental engagement in active digital citizenship education possible and to make it a reality. Parents International’s recent research shows that in half of Europe there is no legal framework that guarantees parental engagement and in a further ¼ it is only a formality, ticking a box rather than meaningful engagement. As only 16% of the countries examined have meaningful parental engagement in decision making, there is a major need to include this in legislation. As 24% reported that participation is only a formality and 8% told the researchers that it depends on the school leader if the legal obligation translates to meaningful engagement or becomes a formality, it is also necessary to invest in supporting teachers and school leaders in creating meaningful engagement structures. At the same time, there is an investment need, specifically a technological one, in tools that make it possible to engage all parents, including ones who cannot be physically present during school working hours, who do not speak the language of instruction or for example disabled. Digital technology encapsules endless possibilities for this. As mentioned before, meaningful engagement is also a means to engage generally difficult to reach high status parents. It will only become a reality if the crucial role of school leaders and organisations with outreach to large groups of parents are involved in the process, and decent funding is available for their work with schools. We do not only mean parents organisations as especially national parents organisations often only have contact to middle class or white middle class parents, while other organisations have better outreach and also experience with engaging parents not connected to parents’ organisations.