Bulgarian children aged 9-17 start using the Internet from an increasingly early age and also increasingly larger share of them use mobile devices. However, about half of them admit that they can not judge whether what they read on the Internet is true or not.
Less than one third of Bulgarian children regularly receive school assignments requiring evaluation and synthesis of information on the Internet, and about a quarter have never had such an opportunity. Cyber bulling among them has grown significantly since 2010 and the percentage of children's public profiles on social networks has not changed over the past six years, which demonstrates the lack of development of their skills to stay safe online. Although about 86% of them have social networking profiles, they are passive over most of their time, which prevents them from developing their communication and cooperation skills online. This was found by a national representative survey "Bulgarian children online" conducted in 2016 by Market Links Sociological Agency and Applied Research and Communications Fund (ARC Fund), coordinator of the Bulgarian Safer Internet Centre (a detailed report on the survey can be found here).
All these deficits of Bulgarian children are deficits in their digital and media literacy (DML). At the same time, these skills are important both for their current online and offline lives, as well as for their future as active democratic citizens. If a child does not have the ability to evaluate and synthesize information, protect their personal information and communicate and collaborate effectively on the Internet, it is unlikely that such skills will be available outside of the Internet. Even more worryingly, the lack of these universal skills would be a serious obstacle to the future participation of Bulgarian children in public and political life.
Europe recognizes the need to integrate these skills into the education system. In May 2016, the Council of the EU adopted a document with conclusions on the need to develop media literacy and critical thinking through education and training. The Council takes into account the many benefits and opportunities that the Internet and social media can bring but also highlights the potential threats and dangers that they may pose. Conclusions focus on the key role of education and training in helping young people become media literate and responsible citizens of the future.
In order to eliminate these deficiencies of Bulgarian children from their early age, Bulgarian Safer Internet Center has started work on two parallel projects, which aim to develop methodologies for early development of children’s DML and introduce them into school. In both projects Bulgarian SIC cooperates with practitioners, academics and other experts so that the methodologies can be easily integrated into the curriculum and applicable in the Bulgarian context.
Project 1: "From Digital Competence to Digital Citizenship"
Applied Research and Communications Fund and the Faculty of Pre-school and Primary Education of the Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski " developed content for early development of DML for a postgraduate qualification course "Montessori Philosophy in the Age of Digital Technologies ". Under the guidance of the lecturers of the course and experts from Applied Research and Communications Fund, university students developed a methodology for primary school students that uses elements of Montessori pedagogy to develop five core competencies based on the European Digital Competence Framework (DigiComp) and the European Association of Viewers Interests (EAVI) media literacy model. These are: 1) Information literacy; 2) Communication and cooperation; 3) Creating digital content; 4) Safety and 5) Solving Problems.
The methodology contains 7 modular classes and two additional learning activities, which can be integrated into the curricula of Bulgarian language and literature, English language, Environment, Man and Society, Man and Nature, Technology and Entrepreneurship, Home and Appliances for 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade. The classes were approbated by teachers in 7 schools in Dolni Pasarel, Gorna Malina, Kubrat, Stara Zagora and Sofia. The methodology was presented at a conference on children’s Digital and Media Literacy, organized by Bulgarian SIC in Sofia on 30/05/2017.
Project 2: From digital childhood to digital citizenship
At the same time, with the support of the Oak Foundation, an expert council is being formed to refine the methodology and develop a new DML guidebook for an initial course of education for even more thoroughly structured teaching for development of key digital and media skills. The methodology will be finalized and presented at the end of the school year 2017/2018.