Home Tech Reading, writing and… misinformation: should schoolchildren be taught media literacy like mathematics?

Reading, writing and… misinformation: should schoolchildren be taught media literacy like mathematics?

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Reading, writing and... misinformation: should schoolchildren be taught media literacy like mathematics?

Under an old Queenslander on the south side of the Brisbane River, next to a garage with a hand-painted sign that says “recording” and on top of a computer in a messy spare room, there is a Post-it note.

“Sugar-coated broccoli,” he says.

The house, “not unlike Bluey’s,” belongs to Bryce Corbett and also serves as the unofficial headquarters of the children’s news podcast he founded and co-hosts, Squiz Kids. The note, her guiding philosophy.

Daily episodes tackle a headline story, such as South Australia’s proposal to ban children from social media, covered to inform, but not scare, children. That’s broccoli. The coating: some fun science, pop culture, and of course, animal stories: the alligator who came to school, the world’s funniest crab joke.

Corbett’s talk is also professional but optimistic. She was optimistic, that is, until she was asked about the emerging media landscape that children are entering at an increasingly younger age.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say we’re sleepwalking into a dystopian future,” he says.

“I believe misinformation and misinformation, the rate at which it is spread, believed and shared by a naïve global population, is the biggest threat to democracies around the world,” says Corby, who has worked in journalism and media for more than Two decades.

The impacts of poor media literacy on society are not limited to the ballot box. Disinformation has been linked to a series of bloody coups. successful and frustrated – around the world and Great powers have accused each other of weaponizing it. on an industrial scale to fuel division and conflict. The proliferation of conspiracy theories and the erosion of trust in science, expertise and institutions threatens to compromise everything from action on the climate crisis to prevent the spread of pandemics. At the less extreme end of the spectrum, and more generally, a media-literate population is an essential component of an active and informed citizenry.

Corbett says the insidious nature of misinformation became clear to her about eight years ago at the family table, when her children began regurgitating dubious “facts” they had found on social media. She realized that when it came to misinformation and disinformation, her own children were like an unvaccinated person exposed to a new virus.

“Everything seemed like there was a big gap in these kids’ education that needed to be filled,” he says.

Corbett is not alone in that belief. Information and communications systems researchers say that the scale and magnitude of change in the means through which we make sense of the world is such that media literacy should be the foundation of education.

Research suggests that only 41% of young people between the ages of eight and 16 are confident they can distinguish fake news from real news. Photography: Bob Daemmrich/Alamy

However, according to Tanya Notley, associate professor of digital media at Western Sydney University, Australia lags globally on this front among advanced democracies.

“Our research suggests that most children do not have access to regular media literacy education to help them fact-check misinformation,” he says. “We really need to do more.”

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Since 2017, Notley has led three national surveys into the media habits of young Australians.

Not all the results have been bleak. Notley, who was vice-president of the Australian Media Literacy Alliance for three years until last December, says they show that children and young people value news and that, while social media is an important and growing source of information, parents (and to a lesser extent), teachers – remain their most common and preferred source of news.

But some of their findings can’t be sugarcoated. The 2023 study showed that only 41% of children between eight and 16 years old are confident in being able to distinguish fake news from real news. Only one in four young people said they had received a lesson at school last year to help them determine whether the news is true and trustworthy.

“Clearly, it’s not happening enough,” Notley says.

tThe media environment that children and young people grow up in is more complex than the one their parents entered at the same age, with polarized news sources, social media users, an overall decline in news consumption, and the emerging problem of Generative AI and deepfakes. An associate professor of information systems at the University of Queensland, Stan Karanasios, recently made three recommendations as to what can be done to protect our society from generative AI’s ability to put “fake news on steroids.” Number two is “teach media literacy the same way we teach math.”

Karanasios points out a recent french report which spoke of the tech industry’s “strategy of capturing children’s attention, using all forms of cognitive bias to lock them into their screens, control them, re-engage them and monetize them.”

Once they start getting news from social media, Karanasios says, it can be “very difficult to know what’s real and what’s not real.”

“That report really puts the blame on the tech companies and argues that we need to protect our young people,” he says. “These tech companies have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in research to get people to use these technologies, so the idea that parents just using parental controls and having a quick conversation with their kids is going to make a difference is probably a little naive “

cWider concern about social media and its effects on young people’s mental health and wellbeing has prompted calls from the Premier and Premiers of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia to stand up minimum ages on social media platforms.

But such proposals have met with a colder response from digital literacy experts and advocates. Corbett can clearly summarize his position. Technology-savvy young people, says the journalist and businessman, will find a way to circumvent prohibitions and age restrictions.

“Doesn’t it make more sense to educate children then?” he asks.

To that end, Squiz Kids launched a pilot program in November 2022 called Newshounds. The program is a free, curriculum-aligned, eight-part podcast and workbook-based module that aims to teach elementary students how to spot misinformation and “raise children’s awareness of the concept of Don’t believe everything you see online.

To date, SquizKids reports that 2,608 teachers have signed up for Newshounds (100 of whom are from New Zealand). The program has not received government funding. “We can’t keep doing it for free forever,” Corbett says.

“At the moment, given there is so little out there, especially for primary teachers, this could have a really important place for teachers who, through no fault of their own, have very little understanding of media literacy,” says Queensland. Dr. Amanda Levido of the University of Technology, who independently evaluated the Squiz Kids pilot.

The Albanese government, in its October 2022 budget, allocated $6 million for media literacy products to be delivered through the Alannah and Madeleine Foundation, as part of what Communications Minister Michelle Rowland says will It is a “methodical and holistic approach to keeping Australians safe online, including by providing young people with the tools they need to be safe digital citizens.”

Between its launch on July 1, 2023, and the end of March this year, some 98 high schools enrolled in the foundation’s eSmart Media Literacy Lab, reaching more than 8,000 students. In January this year, the foundation launched an eSmart Digital+ License for primary schools in the country and by the end of March, 49 schools had signed up. A junior digital license for students aged five to nine will be launched in the second half of this year.

“Australian schoolchildren are now the second generation of digital natives, and it’s vital they have the skills they need to discern fact from fiction and stay safe online,” Rowland said in a statement.

Still, Notley says, the Newshounds program has the greatest reach in terms of elementary school children, and he worries about the lack of funding for it. “Services like this should remain free to schools and it is difficult to see how this can happen without government support,” she says.

Once young people start receiving news through social media, one academic says, it can be “very difficult to distinguish what is real and what is not real.” Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Of course, there are other programs that try to engage children with the news. Notley praises the ABC television program Behind the News, which has reached Australian children for more than five decades, and identifies ABC Education, the Museum of Australian Democracy and the National Film and Sound Archive as having the greatest reach for media literacy education in secondary school. She and Levido say programs like Newshounds need to be part of a much broader strategy and that there need to be transparent and competitive processes for providers to bid for government funding.

“We need a national media literacy policy,” says Notley. “And that kind of document exists now in many countries: in Finland and Brazil.”

Finland has been considered a “gold standard” for decades, he says, integrating media literacy into education as early as kindergarten.

Brazil made fighting misinformation and disinformation a priority after suffered a coup attempt early last year and I saw thousands of people die unnecessarily from Covid due to misinformationsays Notley. The government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva created a media literacy office and a media education strategy, he says, set “really big goals” for teacher training and made misinformation the theme of an “Education Olympics.”

“That happened in one year, so I think it shows how quickly things can change when you have a government that believes this is an important priority.”

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