• Jaco du Toit
Unesco regional office, Windhoek
+264 61 291 7221
A three-day regional teacher workshop to be held in early November 2009 in Pretoria, South Africa, aims to boost literacy in new media and information skills. The workshop is a joint project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and the University of Pretoria.
At least 20 teacher trainers from countries in the Southern African region, including South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho and Namibia, are to attend. Similar regional events will take place in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to cover teacher training institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean; as well as in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for teacher training institutions in the South Asia region.
The event centres on Unesco’s draft media and information literacy (MIL) curriculum for teacher education, which is soon to be piloted in teacher training institutions in at least eight developing countries.
Trainers at the African event will be brought up to speed with the latest developments in the field of media and information literacy as it pertains to teacher education. They will also have the opportunity to discuss the draft curriculum and give their feedback on it, both as a whole and for specific modules. This feedback is expected to enhance the draft.
The development of the MIL programme is steered by an international expert group. Local media education expert Professor Fackson Banda, the SABMiller-Unesco Chair of Media and Democracy at Rhodes University’s journalism school, represents the country in this group. Visiting professor Albert Boekhorst, an information scientist connected to Pretoria University’s Department of Information Science, also works on the project.
The group meets regularly to review the curriculum’s progress and make recommendations for its further improvement. The upcoming workshop is an extension of the ongoing validation process.
Media expert Professor Birgitte Tufte of the Copenhagen Business School names South Africa as one of the world’s leading countries in media education, along with Australia, Canada, and Great Britain. Other countries slowly following suit include the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Austria, and Switzerland.
South Africa held its first media education conference in 1990 and has seen an increasing demand for media education since the arrival of democracy in 1994.
Understanding the media
The Alexandria Proclamation says that information literacy and life-long learning are “beacons of the Information Society, illuminating the courses to development, prosperity and freedom”. The proclamation was drawn up at a colloquium on information literacy and life-long learning held in Alexandria, Egypt, in November 2005.
Media and communication technologies, says Unesco, are crucial in keeping people informed so that they can competently assess, process and use media, in a variety of forms, in their personal lives and careers.
This competency allows citizens to participate usefully in democratic societies. It also allows them to create their own functional media messages.
Media and information technologies also stimulate creativity and debate on a range of issues, but their effectiveness is entirely dependent on the audience’s ability to understand, process and use the information while filtering out propaganda and bias.
The MIL programme aims to foster literacy in mass media as well as information and communication technologies among the youth of the world, who are today’s most eager media consumers, according to Unesco. These children obtain their news not only through traditional channels but also through new platforms such as social networking sites, where they interact with their peers.
However, because of their tender age, these consumers are also most vulnerable to the dangers of misusing or misinterpreting the media.
Before media literacy programmes are included in school teaching, a number of obstacles must be overcome, including overworked teachers and already full curricula. South Africa’s own school curriculum has undergone a number of revisions since 1994, when the controversial outcomes-based system was phased in. The 2008 group of matrics was the first to write their final exams under the new system.
Teachers themselves need media and information literacy education to be able to understand the role and importance of media, and to be able to equip their pupils with the same skills.
Unesco will work towards the inclusion of media literacy in national teacher training curricula, thus creating a ripple effect that will eventually filter down to pupils of secondary education level. The results and effectiveness of eight pilot projects will be shared with government education departments, and will determine the level of integration into national curricula.
The integration of libraries into the programme is another crucial step, as libraries offer an environment with valuable resources and services, and play an important role in the life-long learning process.