Digital literacy is the ability to access, manage, understand, integrate, communicate, evaluate and create information safely and appropriately through digital devices and networked technologies for participation in economic and social life. It includes competences that are variously referred to as computer literacy, ICT literacy, information literacy, and media literacy.”  


A Global Framework to Measure Digital Literacy | UNESCO UIS


It’s a mouthful and we may need to read it multiple times (which I did), but what comes out of the definition for me, is that technology needs to meet cognitive ability. Tech is the tool, cognitive ability is the processing system. 


One of the biggest mistakes we make as educators/ parents, is assuming that because students are ‘digital natives’ and born into a world already running on technology, is that they know how to use it EFFECTIVELY and APPROPRIATELY. Of course they will do the proper research! Of course they will share photos and videos responsibly!  Of course…..NOT.


Let’s take the case of the teenage girl who has a major crush on that popular footballer who’s 17 and she’s 13. She gets hold of his number, she wants to gain his sole attention and thinks that if she sends sexually explicit photos/ videos to him, that will be the result. Soon enough, the media is circulating all over the school and yikes! It drips over to other schools as well. Because as WE, the digital migrants know, there’s no stopping the range of reach once it’s out there.


Parents, teachers, Deans and Admin get involved. Law Enforcement might as well, and it’s a whole fiasco. I’ve sat in rooms where parents have asked an already devastated student : “What were you thinking? Why would you do that? Don’t you know?”


So I’m going to zone into some key words there: “Think” and “Know”....guess what? You’re talking about cognitive ability.


“Cognitive abilities are skills your brain uses to complete essential day-to-day tasks like thinking, learning, reading, remembering, speaking, listening and paying attention. Cognitive abilities occur naturally in the brain, but you can further develop and strengthen them by challenging yourself.”

What is Cognitive Ability? Definition and Examples | Canada


It is so essential for parents/ educators to have frequent conversations with digital natives about how to use their devices. It’s our responsibility to help them develop BOTH their tech and cognitive skills. How can we do this?




Gift advice and not just the device ⇒ Sometimes we think our children have earned the phone because of good scores and so, it’s what they get for Christmas. No prob, but you have to set aside time, have a serious chat with them and explain the purpose of them having the phone. 


Consider restricted use or access ⇒ You don’t want them going onto certain sites/ downloading certain apps? Set up security features that block them from doing so. 


NEVER input your financial info on their devices ⇒ I had a student whose parent input her financial info on his phone to buy him a Roblox gift card for his birthday. When the money ran out, he simply bought more and charged it to her credit card….mind you, he was just 12 years old at the time.


Their password/ Authentication information should be known ⇒ Some may disagree with me on this, but you should be able to sporadically check your children’s devices. You should be able to unlock them and take a quick scan through of what’s going on in their chats, what media they’re sharing etc. You shouldn’t have to be asking them to unlock the phone for you. If you are, and they don’t want to provide it, take the device away.


Talk to them about incidents of cybercrime & cyberbullying: Unfortunately, they may have to learn by something that happens to their friend/ peer. So let’s go back to the initial situation I shared. Suppose your child is a friend of the young lady who finds herself in that unfortunate situation. Don’t avoid the topic because it might be uncomfortable. Don’t pass judgment either ‘well she look for that’. 


Sit with your child and ask questions that help them to develop their cognitive ability: What are your thoughts about what happened? What would you have done in this situation? Do you know how to avoid this? Do you know what cybercrime/ cyberbullying is? Do you understand that sharing an inappropriate image/ video can be culpable as well? How would you feel in this situation? What would you offer as a solution to avoid this happening in future.  Be real with them, children are smarter and more receptive than we often give them credit for.




Set parameters for use of technology in your classes: Sometimes, students need to use their devices in the classroom. For example, the days of lugging dictionaries around are over. So for my upper school students, I allow them to use their devices to search for French words they don’t know, BUT I give them the sites I want them to use. It’s important to circulate while they’re using their devices and randomly pick students’ to show you exactly which word/ phrase they’re looking for. Parameter 1: You can use your device to search for words but only from these sites. Parameter 2: I will be passing around to make sure you’re on task and you will have to show me your phone/device.


Teach Netiquette: As the name suggests, it’s about using the Internet appropriately, correctly and acceptably. Again, engage in questions that help students think: Is it appropriate to post expletives in an email/ group chat/ forum? Is it kind to make fun of a peer who makes a mistake in the class chat? Is it acceptable to share explicit videos/ memes on a learning platform? Is it appropriate to message a teacher after a certain hour on the school’s platform? Do we write messages/ send email to teachers with short-hand text language or respond with an emoji in a professional setting? 


Personally, I believe it’s time this was part of the curriculum. In conversations I’ve had with my classes, there were many students who simply just didn’t KNOW there was an unofficial code of conduct when it came to using technology. Again, we can’t assume they know or should know. We also can’t say that’s their parents’ job. It’s everyone’s job and when you think about it, who do students spend most of their time with during the school year?


Sensitize students about Cybercrime: Admittedly, even as adults, we are victims of cybercrime: the ‘you just won a million dollars pop-up/ email’, the credit card theft, the fraudulent sales transactions involving everything from cars to clothes. Our natural tendency is to feel ashamed that we got caught in a scam…so we keep it to ourselves. I’m encouraging you to admit you’re human, and that it can happen to anyone. If us, why not them? 


Students need to know not to be enticed by what seems to be a good deal. What’s that saying: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is? Share with them experiences you’ve had. So with the Roblox student I mentioned before, we had a private conversation about cybercrime. Because what he did, even though it was his mother’s credit card info, constitutes identity theft, which is a cybercrime, punishable by law. 


Define and discourage cyberbullying: Sadly, bullying is worse than before. Studies posit this, because traditionally, the student can ‘escape’ the bullying when he/she’s off the physical school compound. With social media, bullying transcends this and becomes cyberbullying. It reaches into the student’s home, anywhere he/she goes….there’s no stopping it. Unfortunately, it has led to multiple cases of suicide and self-harm.  


You may say we, as educators, don’t have control over that, and I agree, we can’t track every conversation, every joke that goes too far, but we can create a safe space for our students. Teach them that cyberbullying isn’t ‘just joking’, that it’s hurtful, it has mental and physical consequences and ‘I was just kidding’ isn’t going to fly in a court of law OR in your classroom/ school. 


Encourage your students to come forward when they feel the jokes have gone too far, so you can intervene. Teach them to be assertive and say: “That’s not a joke, I don’t like when you say that. Please stop.” My last form class used to laugh when I taught them this response, but I heard them use it on many occasions afterwards, and students would approach me privately to let me know that they wanted the ‘kicks’ to stop about their appearance/ short stature.


Assess your own digital literacy and ask parents to do the same: This point is going to sound harsh, but the truth is, digital literacy is a challenge for adults as well. Gone are the days when we rush to help someone in danger/ in an accident. We choose to record it instead and then post it on social media. I know it’s a blanket statement and it may not apply to some of us, but my point is, we need to practice reflexivity (my favorite thing!) as well. Did I respond to that email from my Head of Department appropriately? Did I ‘CC’ when I should have, paying attention to seniority and chain of command?  Did I hit ‘Reply all’ when I should have just sent a separate message to the person? 


Of course we can’t force parents to reflect the same way, but I’ve found being clear about my own boundaries helps them to adjust accordingly. So, a parent who calls at 8 p.m or messages/ sends an email on a Sunday at that time? I don’t take the call /message/ respond to the email. The following day, I state clearly: “Good morning. I received your message, however, I do not take work-related calls/messages after 4 p.m. Thank you for your understanding.” If I find an email aggressively or sarcastically written, I don’t reply to the jabs or retaliate. Instead, I send a reply: “Good day, your concern has been noted and forwarded to the Dean/ Principal for further investigation/ consideration.” Trust me, they get the hint. 


This was a long one, but Digital Literacy is a huge topic that can go in many different directions. I chose to tackle it from the approach of combining technology with cognitive ability. Why? Because as much as we may need/ depend on technology, we still need to use our brain in assessing how, when and why we use the tech. 


There’s a modern quote: ‘Think before your text.’ And that’s my point: Engage the brain before interacting with the tech. Digital Literacy is where technology and cognitive ability meet.