“We need rights-based learning about digitalisation”

An interview with the European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) about the project DIGIT-AL, a holistic pedagogy of ‘the Digital’ and the specific potential of democracy and Human Rights-related learning about the digital transformation:

What was the main purpose of the initiative?

“We think that many Europeans have the feeling that digitalisation is an ambiguous thing, and they don’t feel competent to talk about it. Digitalisation is also reduced to the tools aspect, how to use MS Teams©, mobile communication, or platforms”, says Nils-Eyk Zimmermann from Arbeitskreis deutscher Bildungsstätten e. V. (AdB).

“The idea of DIGIT-AL (Digital Transformation in Adult Learning for Active Citizenship) is to get a broader picture of what digital competence means as the sum of skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values, as well as to tackle the digital transformation as a social-political issue. The project explores the potential of Education for Democratic Citizenship and/or Human Rights education for education and learning about digital transformation.

This means we should focus also on learning what datafication and platformization mean for us as citizens, employees, and private persons, in all the different social roles. Many of these activities, which we call a pedagogy of the digital, are explored in the youth field, but adult learners also need this knowledge.

For instance, we now have the Digital Market Act and the Digital Service Act in Europe. We are discussing the rebranding of Facebook as Meta and we are questioning the practices of big companies. These things are affecting the people in Europe. Civic education can offer a unique perspective which is lacking in learning about the digital in Europe. The idea of the DIGIT-AL project was to bring this topic and approach to the adult educators.”

How did the project foster digitalisation and democracy?

“We want to raise the question of learning about human rights in the adult education community.

There is no knowledge about platforms or acting as data producers in most competence networks. They are just focusing on user behaviour. What we want to include in the digital competence frameworks relates to democracy.

When you know your rights, you are able to have a constructive attitude towards digitalisation.

The quality in the pedagogy of the digital in Europe should reflect the democratic, decentral, and open development of the internet in Europe. If we are just focusing on optimising user behaviour, there is no difference between the Russian, North American, European or even Chinese frameworks for digital competence.

That is why we say the difference in civic education is the democracy and human rights aspect. We are asking if not rights-based education about digitalisation should get more emphasis because it’s not only about copyrights and privacy. It is also about autonomy. It is about the rights that we have as Europeans. And when you know your rights, you are able to have a constructive attitude towards digitalisation.”

What was the best practice learned from this initiative that you want to share?

“One best practice in the project was the inspiration from digital and data activism, research, art and other experts outside the educational sector – and their willingness to share and discuss with us. There is a huge potential for cooperation and cross-sectoral exchange. The educational sector should take the first step because the others don’t see education as their priority. We can learn from them, and we can help them to pedagogize their activities.

Do-it-yourself is having a renaissance in other education fields, and we should bring it back to digitalisation.

Since we are doing civic education, our natural approach was to go to the digital activists. We can learn from their attitude to digitalisation. “Hacking pedagogy” means not to see systems as closed, but as something which you can use for your purposes. Do-it-yourself is having a renaissance in other education fields, and we should bring it back to digitalisation.

Educational institutions should not stop with the experience that they have gained during COVID-19 using platforms like Teams or like Zoom. We should also promote the alternatives: the privacy-sensitive, decentral and collaborative non-profit tools.

Also, we need to be more in touch with the digitalisation policy. So, when we are discussing the Digital Market Act and Digital Service Act in Europe, the education sector should be involved in these debates. They are far-reaching and when the decisions are made, they are fixed.

DIGIT-AL is involved in the redesign or the further development of the European digital competence framework. We also gave our position to the Digital Education Action Plan. I think the project may have identified a gap in the learning sector.”