What is digital citizenship and how can Australian children learn about it?

Written by Michael Dezuanni

Digital citizenship is a term that describes the knowledge and skills individuals require to successfully participate in societies where digital media and technologies play a central role in daily life. It is important for entertainment and leisure, learning and education, employment, and for social, cultural and civic participation.

The concept of digital citizenship brings together three complementary and overlapping approaches to success in the digital world: eSafety, digital literacy, and media literacy.  eSafety focuses on online safety, including issues related to online harm, privacy and security. Digital literacy consists of the knowledge and skills required to participate with technologies, such as the skills to use hardware and software and knowledge about how to apply digital technologies and resources for a purpose. Media literacy enables individuals to use digital media in critically reflective and creative ways, to communicate ideas and to express themselves, but also to develop insights into the role of digital media in society.

The benefit in bringing these three areas together under the umbrella of digital citizenship is that children and young people can learn about the digital world in a holistic and responsive way. eSafety education on its own, for instance, may fail to recognise the powerful ways the children can use digital technologies to express their opinions and ideas. Teaching digital literacy skills in isolation may be less meaningful to students than if skills are applied to an activity involving critical reflection or creativity. Media literacy on its own may fail to pay enough attention to issues such as online bullying or digital privacy and security.

Children and young people should learn about digital citizenship as part of their everyday learning at home and at school as part of the formal curriculum. The Australian Curriculum, for instance, promotes digital citizenship through the Digital Technologies and Media Arts curriculum areas, but also across the curriculum in English, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Health and Physical Education.

Despite the promotion of digital citizenship in the curriculum, however, there are several challenges for educators. One is that there is not enough professional learning available, particularly that shows how eSafety, digital literacy and media literacy can come together under the digital citizenship umbrella for use in the classroom. Secondly, there are few examples of sustained digital citizenship curriculum developed for classroom implementation, particularly in Australia. Finally, there almost no current examples of how to begin to introduce digital citizenship into formal learning contexts with younger children. Research conducted by Centre members (Dezuanni, et al., 2015; Kervin, 2016; Danby, et al. 2018; Edwards et al. 2018; Woods and Exley, 2020;) suggests that children should begin to learn digital citizenship knowledge and skills from a young age.

Our research team within the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child is addressing these challenges through a new research project. The team consists of me, Susan Danby, Peta Wyeth, Kerryanne Walsh, Annette Woods, Suzy Edwards, Amanda Levido and Elizabeth Pink. Recently we received funding from the eSafety Commissioner’s Online Safety Grants scheme to trial digital citizenship learning in Australian early years centres and primary schools.

To undertake our project, we are partnering with Evolve Education, an Australian organisation that specialises in digital citizenship education and which is recognised by the eSafety Commissioner as one of its trusted providers. Evolve Education will work directly with teachers in fifteen primary schools around Australia to provide them with professional learning and advice about how to implement a digital citizenship curriculum. They will create a professional learning community and provide advice and assistance to teachers about how to implement the curriculum. This aspect of the project will reach approximately 4000 students and up to 200 teachers in five states. In addition, we will work in several early years centres to develop a play-based curriculum in digital citizenship for children aged three to five.

The project will implement a digital citizenship curriculum developed in the United States by Common Sense Education (CSE). Part of the internationally renowned Common Sense Media organisation, CSE collaborated with researchers at Harvard University’s Project Zero initiative to develop and evaluate its digital citizenship curriculum. The Curriculum consists of between four and six learning activities for each year level from Prep to year 6, organised under the following themes: Media Balance and Well-being; Privacy and Security; Digital Footprint and Identity; Relationships and Communication; Cyberbullying, Digital Drama and Hate Speech; and News and Media Literacy. Details about the curriculum are available via the link at the end of this post. Experts from Common Sense Education will provide advice to Evolve Education and our research team about the curriculum implementation. They will also be involved in delivering professional learning for classroom educators.

The project’s goal is to understand how well an already proven digital citizenship curriculum can be implemented in Australian schools and how the curriculum can be adapted for local contexts. It also aims to understand teachers’ digital citizenship professional learning needs. The overall aim is to improve Australian children’s opportunities to develop digital citizenship knowledge and skills.

For more information about digital citizenship:


Danby, S., Fleer, M., Davidson, C., & Hatzigianni, M. (Eds.) (2018) Digital Childhoods: Technologies and Children’s Everyday Lives. International Perspectives on Early Childhood Education and Development. Springer, Singapore.

Dezuanni, M., Dooley, K., Gattenhof, S., & Knight, L. (2015) iPads in the early years: Developing literacy and creativity [Routledge Research in Early Childhood Education series]. Routledge Research in Early Childhood Education. Routledge, United Kingdom.

Edwards, S., Mantilla, A., Henderson, M., Nolan, A., Skouteris, H. & Plowman, L. (2018). Teacher practices for building young children’s concepts of the internet through play-based learning. Educational Practice and Theory, 40(1), 29–50,

Kervin, L. (2016). Powerful and playful literacy learning with digital technologies. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 39 (1), 64-73.

Woods, Annette & Exley, Beryl (Eds.) (2020) Literacies in Early Childhood: Foundations for Equity and Quality. Oxford University Press, Australia.

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Our researchers and partners produce regular blog posts and research outputs focused on children and digital technology.