There is an unfortunate tendency among think-tanks to squeeze their latest and greatest ideas into an already bursting National Curriculum. Fortunately, it is currently being reviewed, which means we're allowed. In our new report published yesterday, we argue that the digital fluency - what we call the ability to access and critically evaluate information taken from the Internet - needs to be a central element of modern education.
The internet is now the greatest source of information for people living in the UK today, especially young people. Although there are more e-books, trustworthy journalism, niche expertise and accurate facts at our fingertips than ever before, there is an equal measure of mistakes, half-truths, propaganda, misinformation and general nonsense. The sheer amount of material available at the click of a mouse is asphyxiating as well as liberating.
Knowing how to discriminate between them is extremely important. But our research finds too many children are not particularly good at it. They are often too gullible, believing the first thing they find, and not the discerning, skeptical users that they should be. This makes them more vulnerable to the rabbit holes of extremism, conspiracy theories, rip-off merchants which are never more than three clicks away.
This is, of course, hardly new - classical philosophers developed a whole discipline about separating the information wheat from the chaff. But in an age where the traditional mediators of information - the trusted Fleet Street journalist, encyclopedia or whatever - are increasingly obsolete, it is more necessary than ever. And the Internet makes it more difficult, as it requires some specific knowledge such as how video footage can be manipulated or how search engine algorithms work.
Censorship of the internet is neither necessary, possible, nor desirable; the task instead is to ensure that young people can make careful, skeptical and savvy judgments about the internet content they encounter. They won't always get it right. I don't always get it right either. But putting critical thinking and skepticism at the heart of learning would make those tricky decisions a little easier.
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