This is the speech I made in Baroness Kidron’s debate marking the UN’s Declaration on the rights of the child. There was much discussion of the two sides of the internet – many expressed fears but all agreed this is uncharted territory. I feel strongly that all discussions must be rooted in data not anecdote.
“What a delight to follow baroness shields maiden speech. To have more women in this chamber is essential but to have one with such stellar digital credentials is a dream come true.
the second chamber of uk parliament was not the obvious place for a young woman from Pennsylvania to end up,
and yet she brings a distinctive perspective through her rare experience.
The noble baroness’s cv is like a roll call of the great and good of the tech sector from early video companies in Silicon Valley to Google, Bebo, aol and facebook. But for even more than her commercial smarts baroness shields has earnt her place amongst the leading voices in the sector.
Alongside the work she has done on the issue we discuss today, she has tirelessly championed for more recognition and support of entrepreneurs and especially women and was instrumental in this governments renewed focus on technology founding tech city and moving on to advise the Prime Minister on all areas of digital policy.
Perhaps we shouldn’t find it surprising that a few weeks after entering your lordships house baroness shields has launched a free digital academy providing skills to help people move on in their careers. Noble lords – watch out – she may be hoping to use you as test cases. I look forward to working with her very much.
I would also like to add my thanks to baroness kidron – both personally and professionally. She has been a great ally and supporter since my arrival in the house and I have watched with admiration as she has built her irights campaign. It, like this debate, is timely and important.
In some ways I feel somewhat ill equipped to speak. I have no children of my own and I have spent most of my working life in the company of grown ups. During the founding of lastminute.com the closest I came to dealing with the difficulties of children and the web was one customer who claimed that he hadnt meant to book a fairly ritzy holiday but that a combination of his dog and his two year old had completed the transaction. I suggested his child should be sent straight to college as they were clearly a genius.
This happened in 2000. How things have changed. Now it seems more than possible that a child could book something on a website. I read just yesterday that a five year old boy, ayan quereshi has become the worlds youngest microsoft certified technical professional.
However, No one who works in or around the digital world can ignore the questions and challenges that the internet and the web now raise in relation to young people. It was interesting to read the UN’s declaration of rights for the child and consider how fast technology is evolving, how hard it is to unpick themes and therefore future proof legislation.
No one would have predicted social networks when I started my career in the technology sector and even at the start of this parliament whatsapp and snapchat were fanciful notions yet they now present some of the knottiest questions.
I would like to make 3 points.
The first is about digital exclusion. As noble lords may know I have been working for the last five years on the lack of basic digital skills in the uk. I declare an interest as founder and chair of go on uk an alliance of 8 public and private sector organisations coming together to help people reach their digital potential.
There are still 10m adults in the uk who are unable to communicate, transact, stay safe or search the web meaning the information, jobs, significant savings let alone entertainment that we all take for granted are unavailable to them. This is a huge issue for the country as this group is from lower lower socio-economic backgrounds and the older population – two groups that could, arguably benefit most from online skills.
Over 4m million of this 10m are parents and I cannot imagine how intimidating and difficult it must be to navigate your childs online life if you have no understanding of your own. In addition as the charity mindthegap tells us” Over 500,000 children in over 400,000 of the poorest homes in the UK cannot go online at home, disadvantaging them in their education. We know that children with access gain on average a two grade improvement.
Schools expect children to use the Internet at home for homework, research, revision, collaboration and independent study. 10% of schoolchildren are excluded from doing this due to poor resources at home.” it is vital that we do not let up on championing and creating acesss and skills for ALL – both to make sure there is not a disadvantaged group of children but also a disadvantaged group of parents.
could the noble lord the minister please elaborate in his response on how the government plans to make sure half a million children, a worryingly large number are not permanently left behind.
Secondly, I would like to reflect on the changes to the curriculum that this government have introduced so boldly. It is a fantastic ambition to have mandated that every child of primary school age should learn to code. In an age where the internet underpins all aspects of our daily lives like water, giving children the confidence to look under the bonnet and start to create and build is essential.
With innovations like the raspberry pi, scratch sites and codeacademy there really are few barriers that stop curious children from becoming the next tech stars of tomorrow. And as we have heard already we need them – with 700,000 tech sectors jobs empty in the uk right now and 1m more predicted by 2020.
As many noble lords have said, education is being blown apart by technology. children are as likely to use youtube as a textbook. they whizz to the web as a default when faced with homework and questions. one of my favourite examples was of a wily group of kids in michigan who realised that they could outsource their homework overnight to thier peers in singapore. teachers were baffled as results suddenly and dramatically improved. So there are a whole new set of challenges for teachers who are so central and important to this debate.
This shift is both exciting and vexing for the rest of us. As baroness Kidron articulated so well, the concepts of authenticity, context and credibility are more important than ever. the connectedness of the world allows for more deep and broad learning than ever before but it is not a simple transition.
i agree completely with baroness Kidron that it is key for all educational institutions and the national curricula to establish a place in children’s lives from an early age for the discussion of what it means to be a good user of digital media and devices, in addition to coding exposure.
I don’t believe this should be too preachy, fearful or didactic. Better to acknowledge the uncertainties and anxieties that accompany many online experiences, and encourage children to share these feelings. Above all they should learn how to access good quality information and advice and we should avoid scaremongering by overuse of words such as “addiction” and “dysfunction”.
Making sure there is the time to express, share and explore nuances is an important part of any education system that aims to improve digital literacy.
Finally, as, we an older generation grapple with the rapidly changing nature of our world, it is easy to forget that there is much to amaze, inspire, help and sometimes even save childrens lives online. I met one very young carer recently who told me that without the support of the young carers community on the web she is not sure she would have been able to cope.
I agree with the harvard professor danah boyd , who argues that we fail young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens through their online interactions.
Her book is called its complicated. It sure is. and that is why this debate is vital – in this chamber and in the wider world. But it must be a debate rooted in facts not fiction and crucially at the heart of the debate we must not forget to listen to young people themselves.
so i end with a quote from a brilliant young woman i met recently, amy mather, @minigirlgeek who at just 15 is the EU young digital leader. In a conversation we had on stage at the recent Open Data institute summit she summed up ” doesn’t matter who you are or what your background is, all children deserve the opportunity to make the future”. I would only add one word. Safely. “