Media education in schools needs to be about much more

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The 2019 general election is already being remembered as the one where misinformation went mainstream.

It was, of course, already on the political agenda after the 2016 referendum and US election, with growing numbers of academics and parliament sounding the alarm over foreign actors using so-called “fake news” to disrupt the democratic processes.

Voters, the evidence suggests, were caught in a storm of misleading Facebook posts, memes and tweaked videos.

This was a covert propaganda campaign and its impact has yet to be established.

Information crisis

Far from being “digital natives”, evidence from the US points to a generation of young people who have no idea where their information online comes from, or why they are reading it.

A report by the Stanford History Education Group evaluated the online reasoning skills of 3,446 high school students age 12 to 17 between June 2018 and May 2019.

They described the results they found as “troubling”.
There is no evidence to suggest young people in the UK are any better.

In fact, the 2018 Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills found that only 2% of children have the critical literacy skills needed to identify a credible news story.

News literacy needed

In its final report on Fake News, published in February 2019, the UK parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee reiterated its calls for digital literacy to be the fourth pillar of education alongside reading, writing and maths.

But thus far these calls have fallen on deaf ears. In its response to the committee’s report, the government insisted there was no need, arguing students already study the core components of digital literacy in history, English and IT.

Check your sources

But this is easier said than done. News is no longer spoon-fed by a handful of gatekeeper media outlets.

This is not a bad thing, but to enable tomorrow’s votes to adopt a healthy news diet, schools must equip them with the skills to do this.

And the government needs to act to make this happen sooner rather than later.

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