Education has such an important role in one’s life that it is not surprising that it has been the locus of the sharpest controversies for hundreds of years. Many influential thinkers of their time (e.g. Aristotle, Aquinas, Dewey, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Locke, Mill, Peirce, Plato) have tried to attempt to answer questions about the nature, purpose and ideal forms of education. According to the New London Group (2000) if it was possible to define the aim of general education, it could be said that it is the preparation of students for fully participating in social, political and economic life. Media have been an essential part of the modern world and it could be argued that there is almost nothing more crucial for comprehending the present than the study of media.
A lot has been said and researched around the world about children’s media consumption and interaction, along with ways of how to improve their abilities to analyse, critically evaluate, use and create media messages. Educational reformer John Amos Comenius had already launched the reading and analysing of newspapers in schools in the 1630s. However, media education did not receive sufficient attention until the second-half of the 20th century. Since then, various organisations (e.g. The Society of Film Teachers since 1950; The British Film Institute since 1980, Nordicom since 1997; United Nations since 1999, and EU since 2007), researchers, educators and media philosophers have repeatedly argued about what media education is for, should be for, and why children should be formally media educated.
The manifestos for media education naturally vary from one country to another due to different media, economic, social, cultural, and political conditions. For instance, Wai (2002) states that media education in Sierra Leone should ideally decrease social differences between children having an access to media education and those who do not. Media education in Asia ought to prepare children for every day use of fast developing technologies (Chi-Kim, 2009). In Australia New Zealand and Northern Europe, pupils involved in media education learn about the ways media can serve their individual interests and personal development. The USA has traditionally assumed that higher media literacy achieved through media lessons will protect children against negative media influences. Although the protectionist theory of media education holds a subtle presence also in British popular studies it does not hold much sway in intellectual and academic circles. The increasing number of British media education advocates, and more people besides, argue that media education should above all play an empowering and liberating role for the sake of children’s wellbeing.
Countries with less experience in media education, for example the Czech Republic, commonly search for an inspiration in places where the theory and practice of media education seem to be more advanced. Buckingham and Domaille (2009) warn of the danger of the idea that the aims and contents of media education can be simply imported from one country and implemented in another. On the other hand, Butler (2010) emphasizes that ‘the struggle in this is that scholars work alone and changes made remain individual… individual changes may be powerful, but if the individual changes remain in isolation, there is restricted room for collaborative growth’ (p. 37). The European Commission for Media (2011) states that the importance of media education has been widely recognised but its progress varies in relation to the country and can suffer from lack of funding and governmental support.
Various organisations such as UNESCO and projects like ‘A Manifesto for Media Education’ address the lack of international cooperation by providing a virtual space for sharing knowledge, experience and attitudes towards media education. Thanks to this, media education proponents dealing with similar problems can hypothetically learn from each other. As a case in point, Jan Jirak (the head of the Centre for Media Studies in the Charles University in Prague) said (2011) that in the Czech Republic, and in many other countries, the strongest disagreement with the implementation of media lessons into schools arises from the opinion that it would only have a small chance of success, because teachers will always know less about media than their students. A similar trend is also recognisable in the UK where more than a half of British adults believe that children have higher media literacy than themselves (OFCOM, 2011). The counter argument could be used in both cases that just because students can use media and technology does not mean they use them effectively and critically.
The opportunities for cross-national debate have been positively received by participants as well as among bystanders, hence, it is a good time to move forward. It would be strongly of benefit if the proponents of media education coming from different countries actively work together on developing and spreading media education. While respecting states’ individual visions, some aims could be shared globally, namely helping media education around the world gain an adequate place within mandatory school curriculums.
Buckingham and Domaille point out that there is still only a small amount of evidence internationally of systematic media education, above all for children under eleven years, and stresses that it tends to be mainly enthusiast-driven and highly variable in quality. These years are crucial for children’s social, biological and mental development. There is a high chance they will carry over to adulthood attitudes and manners acquired during their formative years. In the UK alone 91% of children under eleven years watch TV almost every day, 61% use the internet, 32% use a mobile phone, 23% listen radio, and more than one third of them do so mostly without an adult supervision (OFCOM, 2011). The majority is also economically active thanks to them having their own pocket and occasional money; British children under twelve spend nearly £5billion a year. The individual efforts of segregated media education scholars have only had a limited success. Currently primary school pupils are being educated about media mainly in the form of short-term and occasional courses, or within other school subjects (e.g. citizenship, ICT, history, literature and language classes).
At this juncture the question arises whether an internationally unified manifesto centring on media education for primary school children as a global concern should be written. As Aesop famously put it:
‘In union there is strength.’
Buckingham, D., and Domaille, 2009. In: Chi-Kim, C. ed. Media education in Asia, 2009. Hong Kong: Springer.
Butler, A., 2010. Media education goes to school: Young people make meaning of media and urban education. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Chi-Kim, C., 2009. Media education in Asia. Hong Kong: Springer.
European Commission for Media, 2011. Available from http://ec.europa.eu/culture/media/literacy/index_en.htm [Accessed 1 May 2011].
New London Group. A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures. In: Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., Multiliteracies, ed. Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures, 2000. London: Routledge, 9–38.
OFCOM, 2011. UK children’s media literacy. Available from http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/binaries/research/media-literacy/media-lit11/childrens.pdf [Accessed 1 May 2011]
Wai, M. Z. Globalisation and Children’s Media Use in Sierra Leone. In: Von Feilitzen, C. A. C., U. ed. Children, young people and media globalisation. Göteborg University: The UNESCO International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media and Nordicom, 2002, 171 – 187.