What are Other Countries Doing in Media Education?

An exerpt from the 1988 Annual Report of the L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation

In the past 20 years, several European governments have...introduced media education curricula into primary, secondary and university levels of schooling. In an international survey, media communications scholar Father John Pungente outlines a media awareness program put forth by the ministry of education in France which helps French citizens to learn how to receive, analyze and interpret images. "In order to avoid passive viewing and manipulation" the ministry said, the student must "learn how such images are produced, how they are organized, and how to enrich them in association with other forms of learning such as the written and spoken word, and direct experience."

Similar programs have been introduced at all levels of educational systems in other European countries. For example, in Finland, primary and secondary school curricula have been developed to train students in the examination and interpretation of messages from the mass media, to encourage critical analysis of such messages, and to teach students how to develop their own independent opinions about messages transmitted in mass media.

In addition to classroom work (research, analysis, evaluation and study of production methods), students also receive "hands on" training in the practical aspects of media – for example, editing newspapers, learning how to shoot, edit, produce and distribute evening news pieces for television and radio, and operating cable television stations. Students also study the politics of mass media in Finland and other countries, including the control of the media, the business of mass media industry, channels of communication and other global media issues.

In England, a country-wide media education program deals with four general areas:

  1. The sources, origins and determinants of media constructions, i.e., who is creating media?
  2. The dominant techniques and codings employed by the media to convince us of the truth of their representations; i.e., how does media use technology to cut, edit, and present information in the most powerful and convincing forms? How does mass media presentation of information affect the information itself? Does it change in any way? If so, how?
  3. The nature of the "reality" constructed by the media: i.e., the values implicit in media representation, the characteristics of the world as media presents them, and
  4. The ways in which media constructions of reality are received and understood by the general public. The major goal of media education in Britain is not just to teach children and adults critical awareness of mass media, but also to promote what they call "critical autonomy: the ability of an individual to apply critical judgments to all media texts (print and electronic)."

The United States lags sadly behind these countries in media awareness education and literacy. There is no national program or curriculum here on media studies at the primary, secondary or college level. There are a few universities in the country which offer media studies degrees. They are mainly focused, however, on the technology of communications — teaching students how to produce films, newscasts, entertainment. Unless a U.S. student decides to major in mass communication in college, it is likely that she will go through her entire school (and later adult) career without so much as a mention of critical viewing skills or media analysis.

Author Bio: 

Laura Lederer was a program officer for the L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation