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16th Sep 2020 3:59pm Blogs

Teaching Media Literacy in Citizenship

National Citizenship curriculum includes media literacy.

Teaching Media Literacy in Citizenship

This article from Liz Moorse is helpful in framing the discussion in this special edition and emphasising the importance of media literacy for citizenship teachers. Liz demonstrates how access to media (and media literacy) is a right of all children and then illustrates how this has featured within the Citizenship curriculum, from its inception in 2002 to current Citizenship curriculum, GCSE specifications and RSE and Health Education requirements. Liz Moorse is ACT’s Chief Executive.

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The key aim of citizenship education is to develop informed, active citizens who are ready to participate in democratic society. The opening sentences of the current national curriculum set out the purpose of studying the subject.

‘A high quality citizenship education helps to provide pupils with knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society…and an understanding of democracy, government and how laws are made and upheld. Teaching should equip pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, debate and make reasoned arguments.’

There is a lot packed into this apparently simple statement. Logically, if we want pupils to be ‘informed’, politically literate citizens, then they need the knowledge and skills to think critically about issues and engage with the information and news they read, see, and hear every day, wherever that comes from. They need the knowledge to know which sources they can trust, to build their understanding of what is going on in the world and to decide on their viewpoints and which issues matter to them and why. And of course it is established in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that children should have access to information from the media in a form they can understand.

Article 17 (access to information from the media) Every child has the right to reliable information from a variety of sources, and governments should encourage the media to provide information that children can understand. Governments must help protect children from materials that could harm them. (Summary of UNCRC, UNICEF)

Our understanding of information and news shapes our views on the political and social issues affecting our lives and those around us, as well as, our sense of agency and community, and how we feel about politics and society more widely. In turn this is going to affect our propensity to act – to respond and do something about those issues as ‘active citizens’.

The relationship between citizenship and media literacy was established at the outset, in the 1998 Crick report – the seminal document which helped to establish and define citizenship as a curriculum subject in England – media literacy was seen as ‘an area for greater emphasis’ given the expanding role of ‘new media technologies’ in society. The report recognised the need to equip pupils with the skills and knowledge to discuss controversial issues, be resilient to coercion and manipulation, develop their capacity to discern fact from opinion in the mass media, unpick bias and challenge stereotypes.

The report stated: ‘Education should not attempt to shelter our nation’s children from even the harsher controversies of adult life but should prepare them to deal with such controversies, knowledgably, sensibly, tolerantly and morally’.

The report continued, ‘When dealing with controversial issues teachers should adopt strategies that teach pupils how to recognise bias, how to evaluate evidence put before them and how to look for alternative interpretations, viewpoints and sources of evidence; above all to give good reasons for everything they say and do, and to expect good reasons to be given by others.’ (page 58)

The recommendations of the Crick report were used as the basis from which to develop the 2002 national curriculum for citizenship which required pupils to be taught knowledge and understanding about:

• the importance of a free press, and the media’s role in society, including the internet, in providing information and affecting opinion and the skills to:

• research a topical political, spiritual, moral, social, or cultural issue, problem, or event by analysing information from different sources, including ICT based sources, showing an awareness of the use and abuse of statistics

• express, justify and defend orally and in writing a personal opinion about such issues, problems, or events; and • use their imagination to consider other people’s experiences and be able to think about, express, explain and critically evaluate views that are not their own

In the 2008 national curriculum the teaching requirements relating to media literacy were more detailed in both the content and skills. These included:

• freedom of speech and diversity of views, and the role of the media in informing and influencing public opinion and holding those in power to account

• use and interpretation of different media and ICT both as sources of information and as a means of communicating ideas • critical thinking and enquiry to engage with and reflect on different ideas, opinions, beliefs, and values when exploring topical and controversial issues and problems

• research, plan and undertake enquiries into issues and problems using a range of information and sources to analyse; and

• evaluate sources used, questioning different values, ideas and viewpoints and recognising bias.

The purpose of revisiting the origins of the citizenship curriculum and the previous iterations of the national curriculum, are simply to help us understand more about the role the subject has in teaching media literacy effectively today. The current key stage 3 and 4 citizenship national curriculum continues the tradition of teaching media literacy and taken together includes requirements to teach about:

• democracy including the power of government, the role of citizens and Parliament in holding those in power to account and the different roles of the executive, legislature and judiciary and a free press and skills to:

• use a range of research strategies, interrogate, and weigh up evidence, debate and evaluate viewpoints, present reasoned, persuasive arguments, substantiate conclusions and take informed action.

The current national curriculum programmes of study are less explicit about these objectives than previous versions and if we were re-writing them today, I am sure they would say more about this area. This means teachers need to work harder at interpreting the requirements and developing a citizenship curriculum that achieves its core purposes and helps every child benefit from high quality citizenship teaching including media literacy.

The language we now use has moved on, but the spirit of those original subject aims, and intentions remain present. Today we want pupils to understand key terms mis, dis and mal information and to have the skills to critically engage with the many types of information and news sources they encounter online and offline. We build their knowledge of political and social issues and problems using information and news sources, and their understanding of related concepts. For example, the need to balance rights and responsibilities in relation to freedom of speech and protection from harm and hate; or in relation to data rights, personal data, the law, and consent. We teach about the roles of the media and a free press and develop their journalistic skills to fact check and source check as they develop their views and build resilience to extremist narratives. We want them to develop as informed, responsible, and active citizens. All this means citizenship also has a key role in delivering large parts of the new Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education requirements which includes ‘online and media’ and ‘internet safety and harms’. More on this is set out in the table below.

The role of citizenship in teaching media literacy is paramount. Today more than ever, the politically literate citizen must be a media literate citizen too.

Media literacy in Citizenship – Curriculum planning questions: The following content is taken from the DFE GCSE Citizenship Studies required subject content and provides a useful framework for planning what to teach about media literacy in citizenship.

1) What opportunities do we provide in citizenship for pupils to develop their knowledge and understanding of:

• the rights, responsibilities and role of the media and a free press in informing and influencing public opinion, providing a forum for the communication and exchange of ideas and opinions, and in holding those in power to account

• the right of the media to investigate and report on issues of public interest subject to the need for accuracy and respect for people’s privacy and dignity • the operation of press regulation and examples of where censorship is used • the use of the media by groups wishing to influence public opinion and those in power

• how digital democracy, social media and other measures are being developed as a means to improve voter engagement and the political participation of citizens

2) What opportunities do we provide in citizenship for pupils to develop their knowledge, understanding and skills to:

• critically analyse sources of information including real sources and news

• form their own hypotheses, create sustained and reasoned arguments, and reach substantiated conclusions

• understand the range of methods and approaches that can be used by governments, organisations, groups and individuals to address citizenship issues in society

• present their own and other viewpoints and represent the views of others, in relation to citizenship issues, causes, situations and concepts

• plan practical citizenship actions aimed at delivering a benefit or change for others in society • critically evaluate the effectiveness of citizenship actions to assess progress towards the intended aims and impact for the individuals, groups and communities affected.

Misinformation cartoons by James Fitzgerald