Global learning and media literacy
26 September, 2017
Good, bad and fake, pupils today are exposed to all kinds of news stories throughout the day. With the rise of the internet and social media, it would be almost impossible for anyone to escape the latest headlines. This means children and young people may learn things that worry or confuse them because they lack the full context. As teachers, you can help your pupils understand the intended role of the media, plus show them how to consider what they hear more objectively.
The purpose of the press
Having a free press is vitally important so that journalists can cover major stories and expose corruption without fearing repercussion. In a perfect world, journalists in every country would shed light on the truth, without outside interference from governments, businesses and others with their own agenda. Sadly, this ideal is rarely the reality. Nonetheless, it is important that pupils know what is meant by press freedom and are aware of why it matters to ordinary people, not just journalists.
One good starting point is to look at how freedom of expression is a basic human right, as set out by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Amnesty International has an excellent lesson plan focused on freedom of expression, which is suitable for use at Key Stages 3 and 4. You can find this here. There is also a similar resource designed for use by special schools. While nothing solely on freedom of expression is available at primary level, a number of Amnesty resources have been designed to introduce children to the concept of human rights. For example, Amnesty’s Right Up Your Street poster illustrates different human rights in action, including freedom of expression. You can browse the NGO’s full catalogue of human rights resources for primary-aged pupils by following this link.
After exploring freedom of expression with pupils, you could then progress to comparing and contrasting press freedom in different places around the world. Reporters Without Borders is an excellent source of information about the constraints and punishments journalists face globally. In addition to providing regular news updates, their website has some very neat features. One is a ‘barometer’ that shows the number of violations of press freedom that have occurred within the current year. The site also has an interactive World Press Freedom Index. Every country is individually scored based on the level of freedom allowed to the press. The UK is ranked 40th out of 180 countries, but the situation is far worse elsewhere. Alternatively, useful information is also available from UNESCO, the UN agency with responsibility for fostering freedom of expression.
As well as looking at the big picture with regards to press freedom, you could examine the experiences of individual journalists who have been persecuted because of their pursuit of the truth. Good examples include the stories of Ahmet Şık, Dina Meza and Ken Saro-Wiwa.
Exploring news with pupils (safely!)
News outlets vary hugely in their reliability and most have their own political stance, which they are actively seeking to promote to their readerships. Luckily there are several media platforms that are very suitable for use within schools and can help pupils make sense of what is happening both locally and globally.
First News, The Week Junior and CBBC Newsround are all intended to be read by a young audience. Each presents leading news stories in a way that is easy for children to understand. There's also an online daily news service for schools called The Day, which is geared towards older students. This outlet takes current news, explains all the key facts in clear terms and offers discussion and thinking points for pupils to consider.
Stride is a global citizenship magazine for schools, which publishes many interesting ideas and activities for teachers to use in class. The British Red Cross regularly sends out a topical email bulletin, Newsthink, which is aimed at teachers and explores news stories from a humanitarian perspective. You can view recent editions and sign up to receive future ones here.
There are also a number of websites dedicated to fact checking the news, such as fullfact.org. Older pupils might enjoy inspecting the veracity of popular news stories through engaging in some online sleuthing during class. For teachers and parents, Ulster University has developed a guide on how to help children and young people spot fake news, titled Fact or Fiction. Download this here. Additionally, it can be an interesting exercise to take one news story published in several leading media outlets and with students look at how the same basic facts are presented by different publications.
Using resources such as those listed above, why not start devoting regular time slots in your class to discussing current news? This will give you a chance to be responsive to any news stories already buzzing around the school. Pupils will be able to exchange ideas on the latest news, thus seeing that there are often multiple perspectives on any given issue. They will also be able to further develop skills related to debating and investigating real-world issues.
After all, regardless of our age, discussing the events occurring around us can help us not only understand ourselves, but also the planet we all share.