In my opinion ...
When used safely and effectively, digital media and new technologies can be wonderful tools to ignite young people's curiosity, creativity and confidence. It can enhance their social awareness and engagement as active citizens. It can also help to build their sense of agency and enable them to develop new knowledge and skills, and for their voices to be heard.
The TechSpace Programme, managed by Camara Education Ireland, provides education through a large number of consortium members by training and supporting youth workers and Gaelscoil teachers to ensure young people have access to non formal youth-led creative spaces for technology education. Currently in over 115 locations, youth organisations and Gaelscoils are supported to empower young people to collaborate in a youth-led creative atmosphere at a local setting such as a youth cafe, a community centre or even a classroom. This opens them to a world of community, connection, understanding and tolerance.
Tools such as film-making, animation, photography, robotics, computer science and emerging technologies can become catalysts for youth development and empathy education.
Young people can now express their voice openly at a global scale within minutes. It is more important than ever to ensure they are informed of the possibilities and the risks when sharing their stories. If they are supported by teachers, family support and youth workers who are willing to learn and adapt new technologies into their practice, the benefits for young people and society will last into the future.
A key success factor for this will be empathy education. Leading education and youth development researchers across the globe regard empathy as a fundamental skill to equip young people for the future. In Ireland, The UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway develops evidence on empathy education. Chair of the centre, Professor Pat Dolan, highlights how education is key to increasing social and civic engagement. The research suggests there are a number of beneficial social skills directly correlated to empathy such as greater social competence, better quality peer relationships, increased conflict resolution skills, lower aggression, less prejudice and greater academic achievement. Contributing to a young person's development of these skills will be important for youth and community organisations going forward.
We need to empower young people to use technology to create with purpose, to realise that the accessibility of technology allows them to easily become creators and not just consumers. It is important that as consumers we understand how we engage with technology and we have duty of care to inform the most vulnerable in our society.
TechSpace Network celebrates activities with an annual showcase, Creative Tech Fest. Many of the artworks we receive are an expression of young people's thoughts and feelings on real issues they face. We have seen photography, films and animations creatively expressing young people's views on issues such as bullying, suicide, poverty, radicalisation, abuse, and even the dangers of social media.
This year's exhibition pieces included political satire computer games, music videos on addiction and photography on the decline of the environment. By creating digital and STEM artworks in a youth-led space, young people are given a platform to educate others on their own thoughts and experiences.
If we truly wish to protect young people, we must educate and empower them to stay safe while still understanding their digital culture.
Jen Hesnan is TechSpace Programme Manager, Camara Education Ireland. Guidelines for Digital Youth Work, created by a number of national expert partner organisations to the TechSpace Network, is available on the National Youth Council of Ireland's website, youth.ie.