The European Media and Information Literacy Forum
In May of 2014, the first European Media and Information Literacy Forum was held in Paris, France. The event was put together by a group of organizations, including UNESCO, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and the European Commission. Its goal was to get the subjects of media and information literacy included in the curricula of schools across Europe, with a particular focus on educating disadvantaged groups. A second forum, which took place in Latvia two years later, continued the work of promoting the importance of this type of education.
What Are Media and Information Literacy?
Media literacy refers to practices that allow people to create, critically evaluate, and have access to all forms of media. Information literacy refers to the ability to see when there is a need for information, and the skills necessary to find, evaluate, and use that information. Both of these concepts are necessary parts of being an informed citizen. Without proper access to the news media, it’s impossible to know what is going on in the world. But with so much false information being shared online, it’s equally important to have the critical thinking skills necessary to filter out the so-called “fake news” and get to the truth.
Organizations That Promote Media and Information Literacy
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has a directory called InfoLit Global that allows educators and librarians to post materials related to information literacy, which can then be viewed by curious people around the world. The International Alliance for Information Literacy (IAIL) is composed of several smaller groups based everywhere from the United States to Scandinavia to Australia. The alliance allows these organizations to share research and knowledge among themselves, thus strengthening global understanding of the topic. Finally, there’s the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which strives to teach people to critically evaluate information and media through a series of educational policies. They partner with teachers everywhere, giving them the tools they need to teach these important skills to their students.
Obstacles to Media Literacy
Creating a population that’s able to think critically about the information they receive is a noble goal, but there are many issues that will need to be solved before it can be fully achieved. For one thing, many people have extremely limited access to information. In China, for example, the government heavily regulates the Internet. They block a lot of content from their people and closely monitor their citizens’ online activity. Cuba heavily censors everything from books to TV to music, and any foreign journalists who want to enter the country need to be approved by the government. Perhaps the most extreme example of this type of censorship takes place in North Korea. Every one of their media outlets is owned and controlled by the government, and leaders in the country work hard to make sure that foreign films and TV shows are not brought into the republic. Internet access is almost non-existent, reserved for high-level officials and a select few university students. While outside forces like these are obvious blocks to an informed public, there are other problems that exist within the brain itself. Confirmation bias is a phenomenon where people tend to pay more attention to evidence that supports what they already believe and ignore anything that doesn’t. This can make it very difficult to get people to change their minds, even when the facts are against them.
Overcoming the Obstacles
Standing up to powerful governments is difficult and dangerous, and not everyone is the position to do it effectively. But we can all stand up to our own minds. The next time you see an article that you disagree with, try not to dismiss it right away. Think through the author’s argument critically, try to understand their point of view, and keep in mind whether or not it’s published in a credible source. These techniques can be frustrating for adults to learn, which is why it’s important to teach them to children, who aren’t yet firmly set in their opinions and beliefs.
Benefits of Media and Information Literacy
Some of the benefits are fairly obvious. People who are well-informed will be better voters, so the government should run more smoothly and be an accurate reflection of what its citizens want. But there are other things to be gained from critical thinking skills. Media isn’t just the news, it’s also movies, TV, and advertisements, which can create some harmful beliefs if they go unchallenged. Some studies have shown that students who have taken media literacy programs are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, less violent, and more likely to eat healthy food and have a positive body image. So make sure your kids are being taught these important skills, find out what you can do to support the organizations that advocate for this kind of education, and always do your best to stay well-informed.