EU wants media literacy to be taught in school

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The European Commission is pushing member states to include media education in their compulsory curricula to help EU citizens become more active users of new media and increase their awareness of potential risks, such as privacy breeches or hidden advertisements.

“Interacting with the media now means a lot more than writing to a newspaper. Consumers today can create their own content and make new works by transforming third party content,” said Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding. 

“However, people who cannot use new media like social networks or digital TV will find it hard to interact with and take part in the world around them”, added the Commissioner.

Indeed, although coverage and economic offers of new media is increasing in Europe, some invisible barriers continue limiting the access to more modern forms of communication.

Almost one out of four of the citizens admitting to not have an Internet connection say that they are not online because they do not know how to use the Web, according to a survey conducted in 2008 by the European statistical office, Eurostat.

The Commission considers media illiteracy as a new form of social exclusion and therefore is pushing member states to narrow the gaps that the development of new technologies are creating between generations and between people with different economic or social background.

The European treaties do not allow Brussels to directly regulate education policies, but the EU Executive has already proven effective in convincing member states to adopt specific legislative measures in different fields.

With the support of the European Parliament (see background), the Commission issued yesterday (20 August) a recommendation calling member states to introduce training courses on new media for adults, and to include media education in compulsory curricula for young students.

Although more than 85% of young Europeans use the Internet and has regular experiences of new media, such as chats, social networks, blogs, the Commission intends to target the youth because many of young users ignore the threats of the Web and new technologies.

Young users are indeed the most likely to have bad experiences of the Internet, in particular for their over-relaxed approach to personal data and their low level of awareness of the dangers of publicly showing private information.

The recommendation encourages “providing citizens with information, especially aimed at young people, on how their personal data are processed in the context of tailored offers, notably interactive advertising, in the full respect of existing legal provisions”, reads the text.

To reach this target, Brussels calls to “open a debate on the inclusion of media literacy in the compulsory education curriculum”. 

The Commission also wants to see citizens to switch from media users to media content producers through blogs, social netwroks and other new forms of communication. “Citizens are being talked to all the time, but can they talk back? If they can use the media in a competent and creative way we would take a step towards a new generation of democratic participation”, argued Commissioner Reding.

However, an increased involvement of citizens in the production of media content is also a reason of concern. Angela Mills, Executive Director of the European Publishers Council, warned of the risk of moving towards a “kind of fast-food of the mass Internet media”. 

With the proliferation of blogs and unchecked content, the role of journalism in society is under threat. “Many news-hungry internet users – Mills argued – may indeed be well informed but some, who merely browse and graze and skim without questioning the sources or motives of their information providers, may not be”, leading to mass dis-information.

 

The initiative of the European Commission follows a call from the European Parliament last year. MEPs asked for media education to be taught to students and teachers (EURACTIV 19/12/08).

The non-binding resolution promoted by the Slovenian MEP Ljudmila Novak and adopted by the Assembly in December 2008 “emphasises the fact that media literacy (…) should be strongly promoted and recommends both that media education should form an integral part of the curriculum at all levels of schooling and that media teaching modules should be offered for teachers and elderly people”.

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