Why media and information literacy matters?

  • News
  • 29/06/2016
  • María José Velasquez Flores (Youth representative)

In this article, María José Velasquez Flores gives her views on why media and information literacy matters for young people, and why they should be encouraged to contribute to internet governance debates on such issues.

On 9-10 June 2016, the 9th edition of EuroDIG was held - the Pan-European Dialogue on Internet Governance. At the event, different stakeholders agreed on the importance of Media and Information Literacy (MIL) as a tool for empowerment and for encouraging internet users to not only consume information but critically reflect on the available online material. Moreover, at the New Media Summer School, the youth event which took place as a precursor to EuroDIG, the young participants agreed that in order for youth to fully participate in the internet governance dialogue, education should be a ‘must' in the agenda of all stakeholders.
 
Where can MIL be applied?
As a young migrant coming from Bolivia and taking a instinctive position inside this debate, I will highlight two important areas where MIL have an imperative role.
 

Digital activism
With the new opportunities to participate in the political life that the internet provides, it is important to highlight that civic engagement doesn't come by default at the moment that we, as youth, start being cyber users. Conversely, MIL is important to set the foundations for youth to start developing civic engagement abilities.

How many times have I changed my profile pic on Facebook to a country flag? How many times have I used hashtags for supporting a global cause? How many times have I used memes to show my discontent with a certain political party? How many times have I pressed to ‘Attend' a demonstration that I subsequently didn't go to? And how many times didn't I notice that, due to this diversification of tools for supporting activism that the internet provides, I was somehow participating in the political life of my community and creating narratives with the potential of influencing other youth?

Leaving aside the bigger debate of how, potentially, online political engagement can have repercussions in the offline world, different MIL methods focused on democratic participation could be a resource that can develop and improve the civic and political engagement of youth. Framed in this, MIL curricula that have as a starting point the respect of the different uses and practices of youth online, and that overcomes the stigma about youth not being interested in participating in the life of their communities, can empower youth to be active citizens online and offline.

MIL for international students
Mobility is a feature of contemporary globalisation. Nowadays the current refugee crisis in Europe is functioning as an entry point to make visible the different demands that different migrants have concerning education.

One of the pull factors of Europe is certainly the academic formation through which large quantities of students pursuing their studies arrive in Europe every year. However, many policies are more focused on specific migrant groups such as refuges or economic migrants, leaving aside the grey area of young academic newcomers. In an attempt to tackle this, many countries' strategies are focused on making available different technological devices in libraries and classrooms. However, the ones coming from a developing country, as in my case, despite the need to access devices also need the training and mentoring in how to make good use of these. Another assumption to oppose is that access does not only mean being able to reach technology. Moreover, information and communication technologies (ICTs) without the appropriate mentorship make the ICT not accessible at all.

Further expanding on the need for technical skills of international students, MIL could also work also as a resource to detect, tackle and campaign against cyberbullying and hate speech which, in a context of multiculturalism and diversity, should be mandatory for broad discussion in formal and informal settings.

New approaches to MIL: challenges and opportunities
As stated above, the need to understand the uses, practices and demands of youth when building a MIL curricula and methodology means that MIL should have an intergenerational learning approach. This means that even though needs and perspectives vary across generations, young people and children are key actors in the understanding of new technologies and are not, as often stereotyped, lacking aptitude in using technologies. Like this - and only like this – can MIL work as a resource for empowering youth.
 
Furthermore, in a globalised world intercultural methods need to be addressed, meaning that it's important to take into account that different people interpret messages differently across and within national borders, and the exchange of practices can contribute to a better understanding and to the production of knowledge.
 
Lastly, let's not forget that MIL needs to be addressed not only as a subject but as a lifelong learning approach that is relevant to all spheres in life. A sustainable education approach is not only about including a curricula of MIL in formal academic education, but to also acquire MIL education to bring solutions to challenges in our life beyond the classroom.
 
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Better Internet for Kids Portal, European Schoolnet, the European Commission or any related organisations or parties.
 
About the author of this article:
María José Velasquez Flores, 27, is a Bolivian digital sociologist and student of the Master Programme of Global Studies in the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She is a researcher focused on new technologies and society, currently developing a study about digital diasporas and online activism.
 
As a part of the E-YAT (European Youth Advocacy Team) of the UNOY (United Network of Young Peace Builders), an organisation working with youth lead initiatives for building peace, she is working in the creation of an online campaign that aims to promote the recently adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250 Youth Peace and Security in Europe.
 
After participating in many worldwide events about internet and society, as a participant and as a speaker, she is nowadays developing a project about digital literacy for international students in Sweden.
 
She is also an Alumni of the NFGL (Network for Future Global Leaders) from the Swedish Institute where together with young leaders from all around the world they develop activities for promoting a democratic communication in HHRR (human rights), gender equality and sustainable development.

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