How an ‘average mum’ is keeping every child safe online

14 Jan 2019 |

Since 2011, Yuhyun Park has been on a mission to future-proof every child in the world, equipping them with the digital skills to allow them to safely navigate the online world.

While many digital skills such as coding are now being taught in schools, she believes that the basic stepping stones crucial to keeping children safe online are too often bypassed or rushed through. She witnessed the problems children were having as a result of their internet use – and the fact that little was being done to help them.

But when she first told people about the change, she believed was critical for children to survive and thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, they didn’t take her seriously.

“When I started out, back in 2011, everybody laughed at me. Nobody cared. When I said, ‘Children have to learn comprehensive digital skills within school’, people laughed.”

Fast-forward to 2018, and Yuhyun’s brainchild, the ‘DQ’ or Digital Intelligence quotient framework, was accepted by the OECD as the global standard for teaching digital literacy.

In September 2018, Yuhyun’s NGO, the DQ Institute, along with the OECD and the IEEE Standards Association launched the Coalition for Digital Intelligence (CDI), to promote Digital Intelligence across tech and education.

Not bad for an idea that was initially shot down.

But Yuhyun, who’s been invited to speak at the 2019 Global Education and Skills Forum, is exceptionally modest about her achievements.

“I’m just an average mum… I think it’s really about the timing – people really want to find a solution and we were lucky to start early, that’s all.”

Developing DQ

 

The DQ framework incorporates what Yuhyun calls the “comprehensive competencies that are needed to survive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

It’s split into eight different dimensions of digital life and the competencies needed to cope with it – and then three levels of maturity. These start with digital citizenship, which is the ethical use of technology.

Once they’ve mastered this, children move on to creativity: “They can create the tools using digital media and technology and then we want children to translate their creation to innovation, which is digital entrepreneurship.”

Yuhyun, from South Korea, found that while coding and robotics, as well as ‘technopreneurship’, were being actively encouraged in schools and tertiary education, digital citizenship – the most basic level of literacy, enabling children to be safe online – was the most overlooked.

So she developed her social enterprise DQ World as a fun, interactive learning platform for children aged 8 to 12 to develop their digital skills and test their DQ.

“Our strategy is very simple: before you drive, you learn how to drive. Before you go onto the internet, you know how to become an ethical, global citizen.”

DQ also puts children in the driving seat when it comes to the future of jobs in a world of increasing artificial intelligence.

“In order for them to compete against AI, they need to have soft skills as well as technical coding skills, but actually what will help children is understanding how to become the master of technology rather than fearing the danger or superiority of technology.

Online safety

Yuhyun originally trained as a statistician before becoming interested in the rapid growth of digital media – and what society was doing to regulate it. “In Korea, I observed that children got into a lot of problems [online] with side effects and no one paid attention.”

She set up her first NGO, infollutionZERO, to address the need to protect children from the harmful effects of ‘information pollution’ including cyberbullies and abusive language.

But then, she says: “After a while, I realised it was so important to educate the young mind, because that is the best way to intervene rather than changing policy.”

She began to think about how to empower to become independent thinkers with agency, who can minimise cyber risk by themselves.

“We cannot take away devices and the internet – when parents and teachers are not there, they’re [still] surrounded by undesirable content. So, we need to help them to become more critical thinkers with discernment.”

In 2017, through the DQ Institute, Yuhyun launched the #DQeverychild campaign to improve the digital literacy and safety of children in 100 countries by 2020.

In 2018, the results of a survey the institute conducted found that 56% of children aged 8 to 12 are exposed to cyber risk, including cyberbullying, video-game addiction, sexual grooming and sexual behaviour.

The higher a child’s DQ, the safer they will be online, and the more responsibly they will use technology. Yuhyun says a DQ of above 130 cuts the chance of exposure to cyber risk to just 18%.

She won’t let her own children – aged 9 and 11 – have a smartphone until they have a DQ of at least 115.

“They’re the most deprived children in their school!” she says, with a laugh.

But the serious question every parent asks her about when to give their children devices led to Whatsyourdq.org, which includes advice for parents on how to support children in their learning, help them stay safe online, as well as a test to find out what kind of digital parent they are.

“Every parent asks me when you can give out devices. Before I said it depends on their maturity. But how can parents know? So the DQ score can be a proxy for parents to understand about their level of digital citizenship.”

Screen time

The other question Yuhyun gets asked a lot is about how much screen time is too much.

“One school of thought is it’s about quality not quantity, so if you’re using Skype to talk with your grandmother it’s not bad. The other is it’s about quantity no matter what. Too much screen time is associated with lower grades, negative impact on health and other things, and I buy into those as an expert.

“But my own rule is to encourage our children to have balanced screen time. So, it’s not about this forbidden apple, it’s about how much self-control my child has. They were born to be the master of technology, not the slave, so you have to be in control.”

She knows they play games when she’s not around, but says they also respect her and understand it’s for their own good.

“Technology is so addictive, it’s not just their fault. At their developmental age, we cannot expect them to be super-disciplined. What we need to do is encourage and empower them.”

Hear from Yuhyun Park and other changemakers like her at the Global Education and Skills Forum 2019

Find out more in the Next Billion EdTech Summit @GESF, EduPolicy @GESF and Learning Science @GESF sessions.