Education in Civic Participation: Children, Seniors and the Challenges of an Intergenerational Information and Communications Technology Program

March 31, 2016

Source: New Media & Society


This article investigates an intergenerational information and communications technology (ICT) program that seeks expressly to enhance children’s civic participation by placing them in mutually educational encounters with seniors. Applying Devine’s model of the interrelationship among structure, power, and agency, it problematizes this goal by analyzing the dialectics of the power relations between seniors and children who maintain a technology-driven relationship.

This article focuses on the Israeli Multigenerational Connection Program (MCP), which assumes the existence of a generational digital divide between seniors and children and links it to the goal of educating children in civic participation. In MCP, the imparting of knowledge allows children to experience an empowering civic participation that may improve their intergenerational attitudes and self-perception.

MCP encourages intergenerational literacy exchanges in school via tasks that seniors (mostly 60+) and children (11–13) infuse with content. Seniors are expected to orient themselves in ICT and share biographical stories with children in order to improve their quality of life and family and social relations; children are supposed to become technology teachers, thereby broadening their horizons and developing cognitive and affective tools of “good citizens.”

In the past 5 years, the Israel Senior Citizens Ministry and the Museum of the Jewish People have been running MCP jointly with the Ministry of Education, giving it a national civic complexion. Today, MCP proposes to infuse the children’s technological knowledge with civic value by enriching the museum’s national database with seniors’ personal and family stories about bygone Jewish communities, elicited by the children.

The data were gathered via qualitative participant-observation in two elementary schools. The results reveal clashing implications for children’s empowerment as computer “teachers” and their experiencing of agency. Implementation of Devine’s theoretical model sheds light on the meanings of the stereotyped terms “digital natives” and “digital immigrants,” as well as on the a-stereotyped senior’s identity as “digital consumers.” The conclusions suggest that the technological gap may not be definitive in confirming young people’s supremacy in the generational hierarchy, signaling the need for caution in handling this gap via civic empowerment in an educational setting.

Updated: Jun. 01, 2016