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Internet, new opportunities for citizenship and participation for Children and Youth.

By David Pérez and Manfred Chinchilla

According to UNESCO Citizenship can be defined as the status of having the right to participate in and to be represented in politics, it can also be defined as a collection of rights and obligations that give a person a formal juridical identity it is the definition of a full member of the community, even though there is no consensus among experts, both place of birth and heritage are cited as principles of citizenship nevertheless definitions generally include participation in one way or another.[1] And this is not a coincidence since Participation is fundamental to citizenship the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the article 12 defines the term, stating that “States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”[2] As we can see, it easy to justify the fact that participation is the key to create citizens, that are full members of society and governments are bound to do everything that is in their power to achieve the involvement of children.

Citizenship and participation require a medium or a channel[3], and they are intimately connected with public opinion formation. Up until recently journalism had been the sole channel of communication between the general population and government actions, with the development of new technologies, the evolution of the internet, and the growth of connected devices and access to those tools,  traditional media has lost a lot of market share, young people overall tend to regard news as something necessary but boring, providing a two way street of information social media and the internet allow people, and children to develop new citizenship practices that completely change the way political communication takes place.

Young people overall tend to regard news as something necessary but boring, providing a two way street of information social media and the internet allow people, and children to develop new citizenship practices that completely change the way political communication takes place

An investigation published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, found that “The productive coincidence between young people’s preferred style of political or civic engagement and the internet is stimulated by the growing evidence that the internet especially appeals to young people – it is ‘their’ medium, they are the early adopters, the most media-savvy, the pioneers in the cyber-age,”[4] interesting programs are being developed to guarantee that teens and children have the ability to interact in an abundance of civic and political activities, including “voting, voluntarism, racism and tolerance, social activism and, most recently, patriotism, terrorism and military conflict” they have been able to build habits, develop their sense of citizenship and articulate their thinking about what we consider political.

A study by McKinsey & Company in 2014 identified the four significant barriers encountered for internet adoption, and these are: incentives, low income and mobility, user capability and infrastructure, we believe that further investigations in most territories would find similar results. The internet has positioned itself as the medium of choice for political participation and citizenship construction; the analysis and overall reparation of those barriers could yield one of the most involved generations in history.

For this reason, it is of great importance  that we do everything we can to enable the use of the internet as a tool to strengthen both education and a democratic society in the young population; this initial process has to be responsible due to the potential risk of misinformation and misuse of the channel we suggest the involvement of teachers and guardians. As is well expressed by Livingstone “children are still not gaining many of the benefits of the digital age – partly because we don’t know what we want for them (or what they want for themselves); we do not as a society provide enough varied, imaginative and yet child-friendly resources for them; and often children or their parents and teachers do not know what is or could be available to them.”[5]

In other words, given that the young population already has a predisposition to the use of ICTs, it is necessary to support entrepreneurship initiatives around the use of these tools for building fairer societies, favoring safe environments and channeling efforts and means in the strengthening of citizenship through these technologies. “Children are very enthusiastic about Internet technology; they are of the opinion that by using the Internet they could gain greater opportunities.”[6]

It is necessary to support entrepreneurship initiatives around the use of these tools for building fairer societies, favoring safe environments and channeling efforts and means in the strengthening of citizenship through these technologies.

As part of the approach of youth to participation and citizenship through the Internet and ICTs, it is necessary to articulate not only the participation of people with disabilities but also that the topics addressed include this component as a critical area for citizenship development. Work hand in hand with people and children with disabilities, understand and meet their needs and take advantage of experiences to educate through the internet and ICTs that are one of the most exciting ways to consume information for new generations.

Increasing awareness of this issue and taking advantage of the options that ICTs already offer to include the population with disabilities is crucial. Also, providing the community with more power and knowledge is essential for a deep use and genuine citizen participation. UNESCO has emphasized that “ICTs significantly improve social and economic integration of persons with disabilities in society by enlarging the range of activities available to them.”[7]

Finally, it is essential that the process should be framed in the achievement of the objectives of sustainable development and the empowerment of the new generations so that through citizen participation and the use of the Internet we work proactively to favor a society in which the production of opportunities is equal for everyone.

[1] UNESCO. (2017). Citizenship. Retrieved from UNESCO: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/glossary/citizenship/

[2] Farrow, A. (2016, July). Children, young people, and participation. Retrieved from youthpolicy: http://www.youthpolicy.org/library/wp-content/uploads/library/Youth_Policy_Working_Paper_03_201607.pdf

[3] Hermes, J. (2006, September). Citizenship in the Age of the Internet. Retrieved from Researchgate.net: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249720653_Citizenship_in_the_Age_of_the_Internet

[4] Livingstone, S. (2007). Interactivity and participation on the internet: A critical appraisal of the online invitation to young people. Retrieved from LSE: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/abab/aeb500862c3a75a7692ae837cf1f90d2fc3e.pdf

[5] Ibid

[6] Siti, O. & et al (2014) Children Internet Usage: Opportunities for Self Development. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877042814057255

[7] UNESCO. (2014) Role of ICTs for Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0022/002298/229818e.pdf

About the Authors:

David Pérez Rueda

David Pérez Rueda

A Costa Rican Political Scientist graduated from the University of Costa Rica; he is also a Leader an Advocate, Social Media Exper and Communication Strategist; he has experience in public policy implementation, development, and evaluation as well as consultancy services for NGOs like UNESCO and the European Union. David´s professional background is mainly in work with minorities ensuring they have access to their rights. His primary focus is to expand the vision of Ruh Global Communications across the globe and impact the lives of PWD both in the developed and developing countries

Manfred Chinchilla Castro

Manfred Chinchilla Castro

Graduated from the National University of Costa Rica. He has collaborated with different foundations and non-governmental organizations, including UNESCO and IOM. He has directed his efforts and studies to work for the education of Costa Rica and Central America. His primary focus is to collaborate to strengthen education worldwide and work to ensure this human right.

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