For centuries, literacy has referred to the ability to read and write. Early thinking about media literacy emerged much more recently, partly in response to a growing mass entertainment industry - from the early days of vaudeville, through radio, cinema, television, newspapers and magazines. It's now evolved to encompass modern-day media such as video games and online content, apps and services.
Today, we get most of our information through an interwoven system of media technologies. Hence, the ability to read many types of media has become an essential skill in the 21st century. Media literacy provides citizens with the ability to think critically, and gives them a comprehensive understanding of how media works, and how it can influence the individual and society as a whole. Nowadays, young people are using the internet to interact socially, to play games, and to watch videos on their computers and their mobile devices. This use of the internet is growing at a rate far faster than for conventional TV watching. The focus on teaching technology skills and the gap between parents, teachers, and children and young people regarding perceptions of activity has substantial implications for media literacy educators. Thus, media and digital literacy are currently more topical than ever around Europe.
In May 2016, the Council of the European Union adopted its Conclusions on developing media literacy and critical thinking through education and training. The Council acknowledges the many benefits and opportunities that the internet and social media can bring, but also highlights the potential threats and dangers they can present. The conclusions
stress the fundamental role of education and training in helping young people to become media-literate and responsible citizens of the future.
In line with this, Sonia Livingstone OBE
, professor in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, updates us on media and information literacy policies across Europe and, in particular, the translit.fr
resource. The resource is the result of a project to map media literacy provision in the 28 EU member states. A report is available for each country examining the situation in both formal and informal education, in relation to regulation and co-regulation, for all ages and settings. They include all aspects of ‘information education', spanning access to the internet, active citizenship in digital contexts and eSafety for children.
Against this background, the Insafe network of European Safer Internet Centres (SICs) sees it as an important and necessary task to empower children and young people to adapt good media habits, and to guide parents and professionals to support children and youth in their use of online media and digital technologies. As such, the network is currently mapping activities and best practices on media and digital literacy across Europe, emphasising that media literacy is the 21st century approach to education - see a short preview of this work here
. Equally, many Safer Internet Centres have created educational strategies, campaigns and resources, for the full range of ages, recognising that such education must start at a very early age. We feature just a few here:
The Austrian Safer Internet Centre (SIC) has published a fully-illustrated storybook for children: ‘The Online-Zoo'. This 60-page book teaches young kids (aged 3-6) digital competences and media literacy in a playful, age-appropriate way. In the book, Zoo Director Elsa tries to help all her animals who encounter some difficulties when using digital media and the internet.
Also in Austria, the Austrian Ministry of Education has implemented a digital competences strategy. Named ‘digi.komp', it targets young people in the age groups of 6-10 and 10-14 years. The initiative aims to increase the probability that children and young people will get in touch with digital technologies and receive an education in the field of digital skills. The Austrian Safer Internet Centre has supported in a number of ways, providing handbooks and trainings for teachers.
The Greek Safer Internet Centre used its recent project to create a Youth4Greece platform - designed with the aim of promoting the country through the eyes of children and adolescents - to highlight issues around originality, copyright and privacy online with the young project participants.
The Hungarian Safer Internet Centre talks about an emerging phenomena of social engineering in the form of Whaling - a new take on phishing where children of executives are targeted as a way of gaining access to sensitive information of their parents. Awareness raising - for all members of the family - is one way to eliminate risk.
An experiment by the Latvian Safer Internet Centre on assessing web content critically showed a willingness for people to offer up their private information without due consideration of how it might be used. A further social experiment in the country showed that, in the main, people treat their passwords irresponsibly. The SIC is trying to counterbalance these findings in various ways, encouraging wise use of the internet for study and other purposes.
Media education is an important part of the curriculum in Luxembourgish primary schools. The overall aim of the interdisciplinary field of media education is the positive, responsible and safety-oriented online behaviour of pupils. To support primary school teachers in achieving this aim, BEE SECURE (the Luxembourgish Safer Internet Centre) offers a practical activity handbook with easy-to-use work sheets, games and activities for grade 1-6.
In recent years, the Dutch Safer Internet Centre has considered various emerging issues, such as the challenges of customised content for creating and consuming media and advice regarding the media education of young children between the ages of birth and six years, producing white papers on such.
In Sweden there is no single relevant policy or ministry concerning children's and young people's media use, but instead various policies dealing with these issues. In general, the policies address issues of safer internet in a broad media context, often in terms of literacy, digital competence or critical thinking. The Swedish Safer Internet Centre provides a detailed overview of approaches.
eSafety charity Childnet (partner in the UK Safer Internet Centre), has recently launched ‘Trust Me', a new resource designed to support primary and secondary school teachers in exploring critical thinking online. Developed in partnership with the London Grid for Learning (LGfL) Safeguarding Board to address the emerging area of online extremism and propaganda, the practical resource aims to provoke discussion among students so as to challenge young people to think critically about what they see online.
While there might still be a long way to go in terms of media and information literacy, we should remember that much has already been achieved. For instance, in the Netherlands, the concept of teaching media literacy was introduced in 2005 already. The Dutch Safer Internet Centre
(SIC) has therefore created a special jubilee book (in English), in which they not only look at what has happened in the past 10 years; but especially look forward to the next 10 years. As a European network of Safer Internet Centres, we look forward to this onward journey!