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Trendsetting for the Future

by Jeffrey Hudson, a middle school science teacher at The International School of Curitiba in Brazil.

The evolution of schools and society has always been comparable to the chicken and the egg. Our students may like to think school isn’t cool and has nothing to do with the real world, but the past tells us otherwise. When we look at historic events that helped to shape modern society we often see a parallel movement of ideas within educational thought. The creation of normal schools and the introduction of a public education system started with ideas based on the Enlightenment period. Modern student-centered pedagogy was born out of necessity from the remarkable societal shifts caused by worldwide urbanization, immigration, and industrialization of the Progressive Era. The U.S. Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s sparked Brown vs. Board of Education, which in turn added momentum to the movement. The force that led to these paradigm shifting events was inextricably connected to the curriculum that students were learning at the time. This trend of schools and society evolving in tandem continues today as students and teachers try to grasp an ever-changing societal ideal controlled by the flow of information from one digital platform to another. Furthermore, data shows a disturbing trend that less and less of the world’s population is partaking in the political process (Fig. 1 and Fig. 2). In a report analyzing the global trends shaping the future of education, OECD researchers state, “There are worries that [low voter turn-outs] reflect a growing disaffection and apathy towards the political process and institutions, especially by the youngest citizens.” As we identify and assess these growing societal trends, it is important to decide what role education will play in preparing the next generation to deal with unprecedented technological advances in an economy driven by big data, fake news, and ever-evolving digital platforms. Incorporating social and emotional learning (SEL) benchmarks with focus on healthy digital citizenry into general curriculum will help combat this unfortunate trend of political apathy.

So…What is Digital Citizenship, anyway?

Digital citizenship is complicated as it is constantly being redefined by new advances in information technology. The Cambridge Dictionary definition reads:

“Someone who is skilled in using the internet in order to communicate with others, buy and sell things, and take part in politics, and who understands how to do this in a safe and responsible way.”

This is a good start, but is too simplistic to truly explain what digital citizenship is. When we think of the myriad of social media platforms our students use, it’s tough to use one definition that encompasses everything. Suffice it to say, digital citizenship is uniquely defined for each individual by the content and programs they engage with, their age, and their socio-economic status. As digital citizenship varies greatly among individuals, the challenges facing school communities will mirror those of its individuals. Though each school is unique and should personalize their digital citizenship curriculum to reflect their community, Common Sense Media presents a list of topics that summarize the main areas that make-up the bulk of our digital lives:

  1. Media Balance and Well-being

  2. Privacy and Security

  3. Digital Footprint and Identity

  4. Relationships and Communication

  5. Cyberbullying, Digital Drama and Hate Speech

  6. News and Media Literacy

It is difficult to quantify the effects lessons based on these principles can have on a student body. That being said, the impact of digital citizenship education can be seen in multiple case studies from around the U.S. (Common Sense Media, 2019) As time passes and the need for discussion centered around our digital lives becomes more prominent, I predict more evidence proving the positive impacts digital citizenry education will come to light.

Character: The Key to Integrating Social and Emotional Learning

From a young age, the vast majority of learners have already discussed things like honesty and “the golden rule.” Classroom expectations and codes of conduct from around the world identify the most important rules to follow to ensure all members of the community feel welcome and respected. Incorporating social and emotional learning into curriculum can be a difficult task, as it will vary from community to community, but I argue most schools have at least something similar in place already. Defining SEL at your school will simply help integrate things like empathy and compassion in all content areas. A good place to start would be the incorporation of the word character into your educational language. The versatility of the word is broad enough that curriculum can be adapted to reflect the needs of the community while remaining focused on how students can have a positive impact on their communities and the world. Educators already bring their unique life experiences, which provides invaluable perspectives to their students. Having well-defined SEL vocabulary for the learning community will facilitate conversations and make reflection a seamless part of general curriculum. Furthermore, making these types of adjustments to your community’s educational practice is easy to justify as there is a rapidly growing body of evidence that shows that SEL has a positive impact on everything from academic performance to upward social-mobility. (CASEL, 2019)

What Happens Now? We know that schools and society are and will continue to be inextricably connected. Right now, the information that our students use is being collected, created, and curated by every type of human being on the planet – not just textbook authors. From poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to CEOs in Manhattan penthouses, everyone has the opportunity to publish something in our digital world. Though this can give voice to marginalized communities, it also makes the truth hard to discern as “facts” change depending on what media outlets we decide to frequent. Inserting digital citizenship in everyday curriculum will help students wade through this vast quantity of unverified data with a well-trained eye. As modern educators, we are faced with a unique challenge: we must guide students through an incomprehensibly complex digital world, all while navigating it ourselves.

The connectedness of the world’s population has never been so absolute; every action in both our physical and digital lives ripples through society in ways we could never imagine. One may wonder how we could even test the impact of SEL education. Luckily, international and American schools are perfect cases; they are present in virtually all cultures around the world, and yet remain relatively comparable through similar academic programs like the IB or AP. Teaching students the value of empathy and compassion within existing curricula will make reflection a part of their everyday lives; developing our students’ character will lead to positive impacts on their communities, wherever they end up. The geopolitical climate may dishearten some, or even make us question the effectiveness of our efforts towards change, but I argue that this is precisely the time we should be most motivated to change the world for the better by making character, empathy and compassion an important part of our lives (both in digital and physical world).

About the author:

Jeffrey is a middle school science teacher at The International School of Curitiba in Brazil. He focuses on inquiry-based and transdisciplinary learning using the lab facilities in ISCs brand-new Design and Innovation Lab. Jeff’s previous teaching experiences range from lower income urban schools in the U.S. to rural districts in sub-Saharan West Africa. He has a passion for development work and enjoys exploring the historical and contemporary connections between modern societies.


Cambridge Dictionary (2019). Digital Citizen: Definition. Cambridge University Press. <>

Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (2019). SEL Impact. CASEL., <>

Common Sense Education (2019). Digital Citizenship in Action: Case Studies. Common Sense Media., <>

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1): 405–432.

Isman. A. and Canan Gungoren. O. (January 2014). Digital Citizenship. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 13(1): 73-77. <>

Sonneland, H. K. (June 2018). Chart: A Deep Dive into Voter Turnout in Latin America. Americas Society/Council of the Americas., <>


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