Internet Governance in Education: Youth and Digital Technology by Pavel Farhan

A few weeks ago, I finally received my Certificate of Completion from the NetMission Academy. As I was gawking at this digital documentation which acknowledged that I had indeed completed the training sessions held through webinars once a week for the last 3 months, I was overwhelmed with this feeling of achievement and pride. The academy had taught me how important it was to address the issues surrounding Internet Governance, especially challenges regarding human rights online, policy, digital tools, accessibility and empowerment, as well as cybersecurity and how we can make the Internet safer. At the age of 24, I – a post grad student who hadn’t heard of the term “Internet Governance” until last year at a conference – can now pompously claim to be knowledgeable in this subject. It was then, as I was overwhelmed, I had an epiphany which begged me to ask the question:

If Internet Governance is so significant in the world today due to more people having access to the Internet, then why aren’t we teaching it as a subject in secondary schools, at least on a grassroots level?

Empowerment through Fellowships

Youth (ages 15–24), as recognized by the United Nations, is the most connected age group. Worldwide, 71 per cent are online compared with 48 per cent of the total population. We have talked extensively about youth leadership and empowerment in Internet Governance, and how the next generation leaders play a crucial role in connecting the next billion where individual efforts and approach matters. Moreover, how we develop the core values and how the new leaders will implement and engage towards creating better awareness and capacity building is what the fundamental concept of empowerment completely depends upon. At present, there are numerous fellowships available from various internet organizations which give youth a chance to attend a variety of internet related events. These initiatives are great and I can vouch for them because I was fortunate to be a recipient of the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) Fellowship Program last year during the APNIC48 Conference in Chiang Mai, Thailand. And it was in this conference in which the fraternity of Internet Governance was first revealed to me. So, I’m grateful and I absolutely understand the role these fellowships play in getting the youth interested in Internet Governance.

However, not everyone has the privilege of obtaining these fellowships. So, does this mean that the advocacy of Internet Governance is only limited to the lucky ones who make the cut? If only these youths could engage at the grassroots level, say during their years in secondary school, the impact could be great in terms of awareness and capacity building. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In fact, in schools, these subjects are often left to the initiative of self-taught teachers. Internet Governance and related topics are not even part of the basic curriculum because the decision-making bodies for education do not completely understand them. As a result, they are blended with language courses instead, which makes it difficult to evaluate them. The closest we’ve gotten to having Internet Governance in education was during the India School on Internet Governance (inSIG), in 2016, where there were discussions on introducing Internet Governance as a subject in schools.[1] It has been a few years since then and there still hasn’t been any attempt to add to the school curriculums in the region.

Survey: Where did Internet Governance Literacy begin?

So, I was to curious to discover when and where does Internet Governance literacy begin. There are so many individuals and organizations today who are entirely dedicated to the promotion of Internet Governance, but where did it all start for them? Therefore, I decided to conduct a survey to acquire the answers to my questions. I sent out a short questionnaire to my friends and associates who have been indulged in the field of Internet Governance, as well as Internet Governance professionals, in the Asia-Pacific region. These experts were actively involved with renowned organizations such as Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), The Internet Society (ISOC), Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), Youth4IG, NetMission, etc. The questionnaire was anonymous and short, with merely three questions which asked the responders:

  • To state their gender,
  • To state the age when they first learn of the term “Internet Governance”,
  • To state where they learnt of the term “Internet Governance”
Figure 1.1 – Survey Respondents by Gender

There was a total of 70 responses to the survey which was monitored over a week from March 27th, 2020 to April 3rd, 2020. As seen in Figure 1.1, the survey responses by gender have been quite close to being even to some degree with a turnout of 54.3% male responders, as compared to 45.7% female responders.

Figure 1.2 – Demographics: Age Range of Respondents

On the other hand, there were some significantly intriguing statistics regarding the age demographics of the responders, as see in Figure 1.2. Prior to producing this survey, I had an initial and biased assumption that the majority of the responders would have heard of Internet Governance by the time they were between the ages of 21-24, at least. However, the data from the survey says otherwise. 28.6% of the responders fell under the 21-24 range, implying that a lot of students, particularly fresh undergraduates and post grads, as well as young professionals, had a nebulous understanding of Internet Governance during their academic life. In contrast, there was a staggering 35.7% of responders who were 33 and above when they first learnt of the term, suggesting that they were established individuals in the Internet community/industry who weren’t familiar with Internet Governance until they were either introduced to it through their line of work or by attending an Internet event which briefly talked about it. Also, 12.9% of responders were aged between 17-20 and 25-28, respectively, and 10% were under the age range of 29-32. I had included additional age ranges (for those who may have learnt of Internet Governance before the age of 13 or even between the ages 13-16), but the data was evident that none of the responders were acquainted with the term during those periods of their lives.

Figure 1.3 – Where Respondents Learnt about Internet Governance

Finally, Figure 1.3 above concludes the survey by providing the findings on where the respondents first learnt of the term “Internet Governance”. It is apparent that the majority of the responders, explicitly 19.20%, consider ICANN events the platform where they were primarily instituted to Internet Governance. This is rational because ICANN has their meetings three times annually, where many topics concerning the Internet and the Internet Governance as well as the concrete work of ICANN are discussed in workshops and open forums, also via remote access. The ICANN Fellowship Program supports approximately 45 participants per ICANN Public Meeting, inclusive of newcomers, returning alumni, and mentors. Then there is the NextGen@ICANN program which supports approximately 15-20 participants, between the ages of 18-31 who are enrolled as an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student, at each of the ICANN Public Meetings. Therefore, it is not hard to understand that ICANN has a global outreach in promoting Internet Governance to a diversity of stakeholders.

Next, with 13.60% of the responses, are other Fellowship Programs/Conferences (i.e. APNIC), which engage three categories of fellows: youth, professional and returning. APNIC conferences, for instance, bring distinct stakeholder groups together to discuss technical and Internet governance matters and number resource policies twice a year. The third largest tower on the graph with 12% of the responses are none other than the Asia-Pacific regional Internet Governance Forum which has become an integral annual forum convened with objectives to raise awareness and encourage participation from relevant stakeholders around the region on Internet governance issues, as well as to foster multi-lateral, multi-stakeholder discussion about issues pertinent to the Internet in Asia. Through this multi-stakeholder approach, APrIGF values the youth as an important stakeholder and the future generations of the Internet. Thus, a Youth IGF is simultaneously held annually featuring a simulation of the multi-stakeholder discussion model among the young people on various Internet governance issues

It’s great to see such extensive emphasis given to the youth through these platforms. As seen through the graph, majority of these youths receive a chance to learn about Internet Governance while pursuing an undergraduate program (9.60%) or a post graduate program (5.60%). Internet Society Chapters (9.60%), as well as national Schools of Internet Governance (8.00%) should also be commended in advocating for Internet Governance through various activities conducted yearly, giving youth a chance to learn from the experts in the field. However, the verdict remains the same – there is close to no exposure of the youth to Internet Governance when they are going through their secondary education. Only 0.8%, which was just one responder, who replied to the survey saying that they learnt about Internet Governance while in school, not because it was taught as a course, but because of her participation in an external internet governance competition.

Protecting by Educating the Youth

With that said, I believe the future of education should be part of the global debate on Internet governance. We’ve made it through a digital transition already, where we went from traditional schooling in the past to now, in the present, where youth are utilizing information and communication technology (ICT) as support tools. I would like to argue that it’s now time to pick it up a notch and start teaching the youth from a younger age about Internet Governance. This new field can be integrated into the school curriculum as a key discipline which can also nurture their human rights and understanding of shared values, which, in turn, will help to build more inclusive societies. It’s high time we move past the current “protected” status that we entail to youth in schools and instead start teaching them early on how their active participation in Internet governance can empower them to become actors in policy deliberations.

In the next blog under Internet Governance in Education, I’d like to talk about the importance of protecting the digital youth. It’s true that digital technology has already changed the world, but as more and more youth go online around the world, it is increasingly changing the way the Internet should be perceived. Is the Internet a boon to humankind, offering unlimited opportunity for communication and commerce, learning and free expression? Or is it a threat to our way of life, undermining the social fabric, even the political order, and threatening our well-being? And finally – regardless of what the Internet is or can become, what should we be teaching the youth so that they are able to use the Internet judiciously?  


[1] Reference to the online article can be found through this link: https://www.scoonews.com/news/schools-to-introduce-internet-governance-as-a-subject-soon-1339