Off the Wall – Fiji Times 16 September, 2015
Over the weekend two news stories regarding education caught my attention. The first was the discussion around whether Mathematics should be dropped as a compulsory or core subject in schools. The second was about the launch of the new national framework for digital literacy programme which aims to ensure digital literacy is taught in schools from Year one to Year 12.
It is not surprising that a digital literacy programme should be implemented in our schools, we are fast becoming a technologically oriented world. Computer literacy classes are critical for our children (and our adults) to be able to perform to the best of their ability in the professions they seek to take up.
However the type of literacy required in the digital age is more than just learning how to use Microsoft.
What of media literacy?
We live a digital era where connectivity is increasing on a daily basis and the boundaries between the virtual world and physical or “real” world are rapidly blurring. Social media has become even more pervasive than traditional or broadcast media. The government, civil society and even religious organisations have raised concerns over the negative impact of social media and the internet. There is even a Cyber-crimes Unit of the Fiji Police Force.
According to the Centre for Media Literacy, the necessity for and methods of media literacy education are often absent or unclear for many teachers and parents. Teachers are struggling with many problems already: illiteracy, new educational technologies, and students from dysfunctional families. We deal with drug problems, poverty, minority underachievement, and even violence.
Yet there is still no inclusion of media literacy in the school curriculum.
This is not for lack of trying. Fiji Media Watch has been holding media education workshops and working with schools to set up media education clubs (MEC). However this still remains part of extra-curricular activities and placed in the same category as hobbies, Scouts and Girl Guides and sporting activities.
Don’t get me wrong, I certainly benefitted from these extra-curricular activities while I was in school. I also was fortunate to both learn basic media literacy from my parents and then later through the programmes of Fiji Media Watch.
Media Literacy is about developing young people's critical and creative abilities when it comes to the media. Being able to understand the media enables people to analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a wide variety of media, genres, and forms. Education for media literacy often uses an inquiry-based pedagogic model that encourages people to ask questions about what they watch, hear, and read.
“Media literacy is no longer separable from education. If we train students in basic skills such as reading and arithmetic, if we teach them about their native languages, and the history of their countries, if we do all these things so that they may be useful adults and productive citizens, then we must teach them about the media as well,” writes Neil Anderson of the CML.
“The spectrum of communications technologies that we encounter in our everyday lives is much greater than the one we are educated to encounter in our schools. If schools intend to prepare people to function with efficiency and pleasure in the 21st Century, they need to catch up to this larger spectrum. As well as addressing the value issues in a play or novel, schools need to address the value issues in newscasts and feature articles. As well as addressing the aesthetics in a poem or painting, schools need to address aesthetics in a sitcom or magazine ad.”
The Centre points out that for some students, there is a connection between media consumption and functional illiteracy. Electronic mass media don't communicate through print, but through sound and images. Those hours (often six cumulative hours per day for television and radio, about equal to the time spent in school) are hours people are not reading and writing, so print literacy is not being practiced.
“There is, however, a great deal of sound and visual communication going on in those six hours, and these can lead to the development of media literacy if such a concept is introduced formally in the home and/or school. Such a subject should be introduced. Newspapers are not the primary source of information for most people and have not been for over a decade. We get most of our information from radio and television, but if we are never taught how to take information from these media, how can we be expected to absorb it effectively, if at all?”
Media education has become a priority today because we have discovered the extent of the media's importance in people's lives. Just as we now know about the importance of nutrition and the need to preserve the environment-also matters whose awareness has developed recently-we have recognized that the media is not just a source of entertainment and information, but an experience that defines our lives.
“We need media literacy education because we know more about it. We know that there is a definitive connection between students' attitudes and their ability to learn-that a positive attitude facilitates learning, a negative one obstructs it. We know that students have different learning styles-some learning better from reading, some from hearing, some from seeing. We know that students are much more attentive to ideas they recognize as directly relevant to their lives, that their attention spans can increase 400 percent if they perceive a topic to be of personal relevance.”
This does not mean the job is easy. But once we begin, we understand the media's connection to other, more pressing societal problems. To a large degree, our images of ‘how to be’ comes from the media. They are crucial shaper of the young lives we are striving to direct.
Because this is so, media literacy can empower students to interact positively with their society. This empowerment can occur when they realize the possibilities of their interaction and develop the tools with which to interact.
In a media-driven and social media-connected world, media literacy will be the factor in deciding whether our people will be people of influence or people who influenced.
“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”