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Views: Teach children critical thinking skills

Parents can help their children identify fake news from an early age by teaching them to critically evaluate everything they read online

The draft Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), which seeks to curb online falsehoods, is expected to become law.

Against this backdrop, a falsehood, or fake news, is an extremely relevant topic to address with regards to content consumed by children.

With so much online content available, it is easy for young minds to fall prey to fake news.

Young children are highly impressionable, and as they get older, studies have shown that 20 per cent of children between the ages of eight and 15 believe everything they read online.

In a world where children aged five to 16 years old get on average more than six hours of screen time a day, they are overwhelmed with information.

This information is often unverified or biased, attempting to influence their habits or colour their views.

The danger of fake news lies in its potential to distort reality by challenging notions of right or wrong and normalising behaviour that children are taught to see as radical or inappropriate.

As a result, recurrent exposure to fake news can negatively affect how children see the world, their relationships with others and their place in society.

Without good judgement, fake news can cause children to question themselves, leading to a lack of self-confidence.

If fear is involved, debunking the fake news can become challenging as the impact stays with the child even after learning that the news is not true.

Fake news can fuel a culture of fear, uncertainty and a distrust of the media, when, instead, children's thirst for knowledge should be encouraged.

As educators and parents, we can do this by instilling in our children the need to critically evaluate everything they read and hear, regardless of the context, thus helping to develop critical thinking skills.

This will in turn allow the child to be able to consider and deliberate, thereby becoming more discerning when it comes to consuming content.

The key is to focus on how children can learn to become skilful critical thinkers.

In order to differentiate fact from fiction, children must accurately interpret information by making connections between the text and the information they already know.

Reading varied texts from multiple perspectives, applying inference skills, and identifying how language structures and presentation contribute to meaning are all strategies which are necessary for strong critical thinking ability.

As students reach secondary level, these critical thinking skills are further honed and older children begin to evaluate the validity of texts.

They learn to trust statements that are supported by evidence and to identify bias, logical fallacy or misuse of evidence.

The role of parents is especially important because our first teachers are our parents. Children implicitly trust their parents and subconsciously model their behaviour.

Parents can start by being good role models themselves when it comes to interpreting online content.

With children below the age of 10 years, parents can demonstrate the difference between commercials and the news. With children aged 10 to 15, parents can watch the news together and discuss it.

Through careful guidance at home and in the classroom, our children can become more media literate as they navigate through the streams of information available to them both online and offline.

The writer is head of secondary courses at the British Council in Singapore. The British Council is Britain's international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities.

Education