From Skills to Responsible Use: Why it is important to teach safe and responsible usage of social media in classrooms

With schools using the national curriculum kicking off their academic year this week after a nationwide revision of the pre-primary, primary, and secondary curricula across Ethiopia, we examine why it is timely and important to introduce safe and responsible usage of social media in the classroom and the home environment.  

After a three-year journey of overhauling its sluggish education system, the Ethiopian Ministry of Education announced in August that the revision of the country’s pre-primary, primary, and secondary school education curriculum is now complete.

In a consequential stage that will affect the destiny of close to 30 million learners across the different levels, new textbooks and teacher-learner guides have now been published. When schools kicked off their academic year this week across the country, students were welcomed into their schools with some of these new books and a retrained teacher workforce.

Among the massive revisions changes in the way, science and technology are thought through middle and high school. The curriculum now includes ICT as a subject for grades 7 and 8, but, like its predecessor, the latest curriculum made little effort to promote safe and responsible social media usage for students above age 13, the minimum legal age required to create an account on social media.

Increased access in a “digital” generation

The internet is becoming more accessible to everyone, particularly the youth, in this day and age. Ethio Telecom, the country’s sole internet service provider until the full-scale launch of services by the new entrant Safaricom Telecommunications Ethiopia, puts the number of mobile subscribers on its network at 64.5 million, mobile data subscribers at 26.1 Million, and Fixed Broadband subscribers reached 506.8K in its annual report covering the 2014 Ethiopian Fiscal Year. With total teledensity in the country surpassing 60% (or around a 72million users) for the first time, the numbers indicate rapid growth, albeit from a low base.

According to the World Bank ICT indicator index, 24% of the Ethiopian population uses the internet. Young adolescents in schools, aged 13 to 18, have access to the internet particularly the social media world without fully understanding the opportunities and risks that come with it.

For this generation, social media is the internet, whereas, for millennials, it is “something on the internet.” Staying connected with friends and family, enhancing creativity, meeting and interacting with others, learning about current events, accessing and sharing information, and other activities are all advantages of using social media at a young age.

However, if not properly managed, it is easy to veer off to the other side of social media. Social media can serve as a platform for several potentially-harmful activities.

Online privacy and safety concerns

Young adolescents may unintentionally share more personal information online than they should. Without the poster’s knowledge, social media applications may reveal the poster’s location, name, phone number, birth date, and other personal information. And, if not carefully considered, people may reveal such information without fully comprehending the action or the dangers it may entail.

With the increasing usage of digital financial services comes privacy and safety concerns such as risks of fraud and scams.  It is important to teach about the usage and protection of passwords, and other financial information to protect the youth from such activities.


Cyberbullying, bullying that occurs through the use of digital technologies, is a repeated behavior intended to intimidate or threaten those who are targeted.

Young adolescents can become victims of cyberbullying or perpetrate it themselves. It is critical to teach adolescents how to deal with it as well as the impact it has on others when they engage in the act.

Spreading Misinformation or disinformation

The spread of misinformation and disinformation might be one of the main concerns regarding social media usage in Ethiopia at the moment. In some cases, wrong information can spread by misunderstanding, whilst in other cases, it is misleading by design. Because misinformation is frequently presented as news and/or fact, detecting it can be difficult for young adolescents if the right tools are not available. Therefore, it is important to teach the youth how to spot misinformation/ disinformation and stop spreading it.

Policymaking in a new reality

As policymakers around the world grapple with emerging trends and dangers of the misuse of social media, those in the education space could consider looking at ways of introducing informed social media use in their education systems. This would help learners benefit from all of the positive aspects of social media while avoiding the negative aspects.