Digital Rights of Students

I was born in 1959 just a few months before the General Assembly of the United Nations declared the “Rights of the Child” as a significant but overdue addition to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. More than 50 years on, I feel that it is now time to consider the digital rights of young people, particularly within the school setting, but by extension also within wider society. As more and more technology has found its way into education, we have tended to formulate and adopt largely punitive policies based upon the expectation of “digital abuse.” Whilst it’s undoubtedly appropriate for individual schools to establish and monitor student responsibilities within the digital realm, surely students are also entitled to a number of rights as well.

A logical starting point would seem to be Principle 7 of that 1959 UN document which established the educational rights of children.

The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory … He shall be given an education which will promote his general culture and enable him, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his abilities, his individual judgement, and his sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society … The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavour to promote the enjoyment of this right.

(To read the full UN document just click on this link)

If today’s young people are to become “useful members of society” then we must ensure that schools are adequately preparing them for a future that we can’t yet fully imagine. After all as educational technology expert Kevin Honeycutt has rightly said, “kids are going to spend the rest of their lives in the future. Are we getting them ready?” (Tweeted by @EduTECH_AU, April 1 2014). Whilst a number of key organisations and advocacy groups have attempted to formulate an Internet Bill of Rights, there is certainly no definitive document. After much thought, but in no particular order, I would suggest that the following principles certainly need to be at the very forefront of educational planning for the future.


Digital Rights of Students

Digital Rights of Students

Young people, navigating the digital world, are entitled to …

1. A Prominent Voice

A prominent voice in educational change; specifically a voice in how they wish to learn. Baby-boomer teachers simply can no longer teach as they were taught.

2. Digital Citizenship

A schooling in digital citizenship, coupled with the right to have any negative digital footprint expunged. In the age of the selfie, Instagram and SnapChat we should never allow an error of judgement by a 13 year old disqualify them from some future employment. This, nevertheless, must be balanced with an understanding of the various legalities of the web.

3. Collaborative Skills

Opportunities to acquire collaborative skills because “… accomplishing anything worthwhile in today’s world requires a good team.” (@marcprensky March 27) The next generation of employees will certainly work in different ways; many in jobs that don’t yet exist.

4. Social Media

Access to social media within the school setting in order to benefit from connection to outside “experts.” This does need to be coupled with a firm understanding of such concepts as privacy and anonymity. But, in a world which boasts about connectedness, we must stop isolating students from the outside world. As I’ve frequently read on Twitter; a classroom’s walls should only be for keeping out rain and bugs!

5. Digital Literacy

Assistance in navigating the vast digital landscape in order to become, in every possible sense, digitally literate. The “traps for young players” are myriad. Teachers need to accept the responsibility of filtering content and teaching students how to locate what is both appropriate and reliable. After all, the best filter will be located in a student’s head.

6. Creation and Curation

Learn the skills of creating, remixing, reimagining and curating the full range of digital media. Schooling must be about the creation and curation of content, not just consumption. Don’t watch a movie, make one instead!

7. Personal Devices

The acceptance of the full range of personal devices in a classroom setting. Yes, a smartphone can be a distraction but it can also be a genuine learning tool. And if a student “does the wrong thing” then we must deal with the behaviour, not just blame and ban the device.

8. Individual Areas of Interest

Opportunities to discover and explore individual areas of interest. Too often we continue to teach dry content tailored only towards passing some distant examination. Call it Genius Hour, a Passion Project or Innova8 Time but provide the opportunity.

9. Play

The chance to play; especially when it also provides an opportunity to learn. Gamification is certainly not for everyone but online games give students the extra lives that we deny them in class and testing.

10. Technology Competence of Teachers

A base level of technology competence displayed by all teachers. If Mr. X knows, uses and allows a certain app then, in my opinion at least, Mrs. Y has no excuse!

It is this final principle that I am most passionate about. I have become concerned that many students go from my technology rich classroom to another where the teacher still struggles to open an email attachment. Surely, if a student takes the time to acquire a new web based skill, then that skill should be transferable and allowable in all their subject classrooms.

A classroom’s walls should only be for keeping out rain and bugs.

To conclude, I confess that I’ve struggled on this occasion to put my thoughts into words. This piece has been written and rewritten a number of times over a period of weeks. Some rights have been deleted, others added and I’m certain many have been overlooked. Given that last fact in particular I would ask you to see my efforts here as a conversation starter. I would welcome your comments, criticisms and additions. The one thing I do know with certainty is that in many schools students have few digital rights and that is a significant failure that must be addressed.

Digital Rights remain the scattered pieces of a jigsaw … but we need to assemble them rapidly.

Simon McKenzie @connectedtchr.


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, lincolnblues. Scroll icon designed by Veysel Kara and Puzzle icon designed by Márcio Duarte for The Noun Project.


  1. ‘And if a student “does the wrong thing” then we must deal with the behaviour, not just blame and ban the device.’ – I believe that this is the main issue with technology in school. Speaking from experience, as a teacher, it becomes very difficult to tell what students are doing on their personal devices, and this is not because we’re not paying attention, it’s because kids are good at hiding things when they know you’re watching. I’m not against using technology, but I don’t know if we have all of the answers yet. Children need guidance, and as their teachers, we are expected to protect them while they are in our care, but how can we be sure that we are, when they have access to so much beyond those walls?

    1. Thanks for the comment Cindy. Very true, and agree that the answers and solution are not yet there. Whatever that solution might be, it’s clear that it will need to be both a combination of changes in technology and behavior.

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