Twelve questions to define media education

Are the media the invincible enemies of academic world ? Not at all. They can even become reliable allies of education. As particularly worthy information sources for active citizenship pedagogy, media can help to give an open look on the others and the outside world, and to improve knowledge.

Many teachers have understood it and are already using it to prepare their lessons. So, are the media one of many educational tools ?

Definitely. But this is not enough. Media language has now to be unscrambled and understood.

Why ? Because mass media have been playing an integral part in young people’s life since their early childhood. However, from a social and cultural point of view, the youngsters are not equals in front of the media. Besides teaching how to read and write, school must also teach the youngsters how to control media language, and how to be active and aware media language users. This is an attractive speech but, according to some people, still far from reality. They should better change their opinion !

In Belgium’s French-speaking community education, teachers have already introduced media education at school in nursery schools as well as in primary and secondary schools. They have achieved promising results, often with the help of poor resources and step-by-step training.

The Conseil de l’Education aux Médias (CEM), The media literacy government board, was established in 1995 to develop such approach. Made up of education and media experts, it laid the basis of media and multimedia education in French-speaking Belgium. Making the most of previous experiences, comments from the Mediathèque’s and the King Baudoin Foundation’s workshops, or even international studies, the CEM has drawn conclusions and concrete propositions aimed at generalizing media education at school.

Question 1 : Media education, what does it mean ?

The messages broadcasted by the media are not neutral. They use specific language and accurate technological tools, and they aim at particular targets.

Media education means giving each youngster the ability to understand the situation in which he stands when he is the target of media-related messages.

It means making him able to be an active media reader, listener or viewer capable of appropriating a maximum of original information from all kind of media-related documents, and especially audiovisual documents.
Up to now, school education has been essentially based on writing and speaking. The part played by images is still of second importance. Yet, according to experts, the audiovisual image can really be used as a technology at the service of intellect, insofar as students had found at school the opportunity to learn about actual knowledge on sounds and images. Thanks to multimedia informatics advancements, images are likely to be more at the service of intellect Getting a better knowledge of image’s language will allow to improve its use as an original tool serving communication, expression and thought.

Question 2 : Media education, is it really necessary ?

Media education is not only necessary, but also vital. The 21st century children, teenagers or citizens are literally surrounded by the media, which constitute a major component of their social and cultural environment. They are constantly targeted by sonorous, visual, and written messages designed to have an impact on their knowledge, their affectivity (feelings and emotions), their attitude or their behaviour. Unfortunately, most of them ignore how to work out those messages.

Question 3 : media education, a school matter ?

Media education constitutes a set of means aimed at promoting the development of each student’s personality and helping young people to build up their knowledge, and thereby lead them to play an active part in society and to become responsible citizens in a democratic society.

Media education is also in line with the spirit and the principles of school modernization. As a matter of fact, media education refers to knowledge, know-how, and behaviour ; it resorts to interdisciplinarity and proposes general activities requiring the whole set of skills.

Finally, by implementing the media in the classrooms, it gives an answer to teenagers’ interests and strengthens the school recognition of cultural and social context.

Question 4 : Which students are concerned by media education ?

Children and teenagers are all plunged into a media-related world. Therefore, it is important to help them gaining skills, as soon as possible, that will allow them to become creative and informed recipients of media-related messages. Then, little by little, they will be able to go from the consciousness-raising phase (to get acquainted with…) to the wisdom phase (to perceive basic concepts), to finally enter the mastery phase (to use the different concepts in personal reasoning). All this is possible through practical activities completed by theory during secondary school.

Media education should therefore begin as soon as possible, that is to say from elementary school. Of course at that time, oral communication will be favoured, but visual communication as well, which is really present within children’s universe, will be taken into account in its social dimension. This first stage of media education will be followed by the approach of the first practices of expression and understanding of the image and sound representation techniques. Afterwards will come the introduction to the elaborate handling of tools. The child will then be able to create small sonorous and visual documents, produce a story and differentiate it from reality. A bit later, at the beginning of secondary school, he will be able to search, organize and modify those documents with a view to achieving a specific result. This will also allow teenagers to become aware of the media strategic objectives.
Finally, during the period preceding the end of his secondary education, the teenager enters progressively into adult condition and takes part largely in the important issues of modern-day life. Audiovisual and media education is currently forming an increasing part of the permanent training that each citizen inserted in his society should have. The question now is to initiate teenagers to real political, social, professional, and cultural knowledge and institutions of their community.

Question 5 : Which lessons, subjects, and activities are concerned by media education ?

If media education concerns every child, it also concerns every subject. Indeed, it has to complement the specific objectives and learning activities required by each academic discipline.

At elementary school

Media education can be used in every kind of lesson and turned into a privileged moment : a workshop about media, or a cooperative work with the different academic grades on a common subject, and so on.

Media education is therefore the perfect tool for early learning games, artistic development, language awareness, but also for mathematics, religion or ethics.

This leaflet is punctuated with practical exemplifications in order to illustrate some model of accomplishments.

At secondary school

Every subject is related to television, radio and media, and each teacher has the possibility to make reference to it if necessary. Mother language, History, social sciences, foreign languages, ethics or religion lessons are closely linked to media education. However, it is also the case for artistic fields, economic sciences or scientific lessons.

Regarding vocational and technical education, media education could either be an appropriate tool for technology lessons.

In addition, media education and education through media should engender numerous, as well as diversified, interdisciplinary activities. It should fuel group works, documentary research, worshops, debates, think tanks, or school projects.

Through its content and objectives, media education must continue to create links between subject matters and trainings too often isolated.

Question 6 : What is the content of media education ?

Media education’s main objective is to enable the student to set up relationships, from any kind of document and through personal reflection, between the six following themes :

Messages with texts, sounds or pictures are elaborate. They are constituted by many components organized to produce a particular meaning (framing, sounds, page setting…). The study of such languages is mainly based upon messages observation and analysis, and audiovisual documents production (pictures, newspapers, posters, video recordings…).

This concerns technical procedures and devices employed in visual and sonorous communication. The aim is twofold : to be able to use the daily life equipment and to discover the major media-related technologies.

Mental representation and picturing
This theme includes both the way by which each document represents its subject, and the possible impact of the document on the mental representation of the same subject.

With a view to understanding media-related documents, it is essential to classify them according to their contents (sport, politics…), their genres (documentary, fiction, cartoon…) and so on. However, these categories are not homogenous and are the result of different approaches. This is aimed at teaching the students how to define the audiovisual documents they discover and, at the same time, at raising their awareness about the subjectivity of any classification (by putting forward the same regular issues or dramatizing events, TV news may be seen as a soap ; or a fiction may be seen as a documentary).

Here is taken into account the approach used by a reader, listener or viewer to get the meaning of a document according to his intellectual level, centres of interests…

It is important to be familiar with the world of media production, but also to consider all kind of audiovisual messages production, including the most handcrafted. As a matter of fact, educating the viewer to have a critical mind is possible thanks to an analysis that demystifies media production and broadcast.

Each theme only finds its meaning when related to the others. For example, it is ridiculous to study the publics if the technology used to reach them is unknown.

Question 7 : What equipment is required ?

It is not necessary to possess elaborate equipment to apply media education. A well-equipped room is of course more attractive for students and allows numerous activities. But too high-tech equipment may sometimes be intimidating or restraining for people who have to use it.

On the other hand, experience has shown that a lot of things can be done out of poor means, thanks to imagination and creativity.

Working with a pile of newspapers or magazines can contribute to media education, as well as working with a television, a tape recorder, a film camera or a multimedia computer.

Educational equipment will be chosen according to the school’s educational plan. It is then fundamental to set up the objectives and to regularly evaluate the experiences carried out, in order to adapt the necessary technological choices.

Question 8 : How managing it concretely ?

Audiovisual and media education can takes very different ways. It is of course more convenient to start with concrete activities. But in high school and particularly during the last grade, it is more appropriate to study some basic concepts of audiovisual and media communication analysis during specific lessons.

Every activity can be considered in two ways : in a specific manner or through a transversal perspective

Resource centres are responsible for helping the teachers by putting forward numerous and concrete models of activities.

Question 9 : What is the efficiency of media education ?

Experiences carried out in schools from different networks have achieved positive and encouraging results. Thereby, during the 90’, a pilot project called Télécole was carried out with the King Baudoin Foundation’s support in 21 schools (7 in each network) ranging from elementary to secondary schools.

The teachers, who were all volunteer, hadn’t received any specific training. However, the resource centre of their region of course supported them.

At the end of the year, everybody showed himself very enthusiast. They had accomplished diverse activities, as the critical analysis of advertisements, cartoons, TV news ; the decoding of TV programs, exercises about the use of a video camera, or meetings with professionals. And everyone appreciated the results. They realised indeed that audiovisual consciousness-raising fulfilled their educational needs.

Media education favours an astonishing transfer of skills. Moreover it helps the students in difficulty : in some schools, TV language is the only common reference for children coming from highly different backgrounds…

Question 10 : What about the new media ?

Since the late 90’, new media have become increasingly important. It is now possible to read a text, listen to music or watch a video from a computer. Multimedia has unquestionably its place at school.
A multimedia computer is a polyvalent tool because, according to the power of its processor and its memory, it can turn into a writing machine, a camera, a television, a slide projector, a tape recorder or a mixing table. It also allows access to an abundant documentation thanks to the Internet and telephone lines.

However, multimedia constitutes a new challenge for trainers and teachers : How to make the most of it ? On which skills and behaviours should the accent be put to allow the student to evolve in a multimedia society ? Which kind of citizenship should be build up in this new context ?

Questions abound and practice is insufficient. As it was the case before for traditional media (newspapers, television, radio, cinema, records), teachers who use media are still too much uncommon. Yet it has become urgent to introduce in teaching methods a reality that is an integral part of our teenagers’ universe.

Question 11 : Where can I get media education training ?

It has also become urgent to introduce media education in the basic training of future teachers. But despite the efforts of some Pedagogical High Education Institutes, it is not officially required yet.

For the moment, teachers who want to teach media education have to resort to adult education. For that, they have the opportunity to resort to Resource Centres recognized by the French-speaking Community Ministry of Education. Média animation is the resource centre for denominational and subsided public education.

Question 12 : Where is media education information available ?

Teachers interested in media education can find information and documentation :
in the different centres of the Médiathèque, Place de l’amitié, 6 at 1160 Brussels (phone number : 02/737.18.11)
at the Cinémathèque of the Ministry of Education, rue A. Lavallée, 37-39 at 1080 Brussels (phone number : +32 2 413.37.77 or +32 2 413.37.53 ; fax number : +32 2 413.37.78)

The CSEM and the resource centres make available a bibliography of the latest documents referring to media education, for teachers who are interested.

Conseil supérieur de l’Education aux Médias (CSEM)

Conseil supérieur de l’Education aux Médias
Ministry of the French-speaking community
Boulevard Léopold II, 44, (room 1C089)
1080 Brussels
Phone number : 02/413.35.02 or 02/413.35.08
Fax number : 02/413.30.50