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What the Media Literacy Strategy means for primary schools

The release of the DCMS Online Media Literacy Strategy has been a welcome resource that concretes the need for media literacy to take a greater profile in education. The pandemic has increased, and indeed accelerated the need for media literacy to be addressed as a broader area of learning. Whilst the document addresses media literacy for all ages and vulnerabilities, what does this mean for primary schools?

What is Media Literacy?

Whilst there is no formal definition, with screen use at an all time high and dependency on tech use  critical to all aspects of life, media literacy has got to be the innovative newcomer to our National Curriculum, if we are to prepare children and young people for a truly blended world. 

The Draft Online Safety Bill sets out the following definition of media literacy:

  • an understanding of the nature and characteristics of material published by means of the electronic media
  • an awareness of the impact that such material may have (for example, the impact on the behaviour of those who receive it)
  • an awareness and understanding of the processes by which such material is selected or made available for publication

Sonia Livingstone says that we are ‘digital by default’ and it seems obvious that we need to raise the stakes of media literacy in schools so that we can provide pupils with the skills and knowledge they need, as well as the critical thinking ability to be safe and savvy online. 

The aim to ‘undertake media literacy activity in a more coordinated, wide-reaching, and high quality way over the next three years’ is a welcome one but with statistics of negative online related issues at an all time high, if schools are to invest in wellbeing, media literacy and all its benefits needs to be airlifted into position right now to reduce the impact of the last 18 months.

With young people accessing screens and the internet at an ever decreasing age, it seems sensible to put in place a preventative, behavioural approach to media literacy and cyber skills acquisition. This must be  in addition to the range of online safety support, reporting tools and platform design, if we are to be sure to avoid the pitfalls for even our most vulnerable sectors.

What is the Online Media Literacy Strategy aiming to address?

 The strategy outlines 5 key objectives or areas of learning:

  • Data and Privacy
  • Online Environment
  • Information Consumption
  • Online Consequences
  • Online Engagement                                  

From our research, we found that whilst children have minimal difficulty with the functionality of technology they encounter, the challenge is more focused around the nuance of the language, the impact of the behaviour , either their own or others, and the subsequent emotional fallout of hitting some bumps in the process. And what’s most shocking is the normalisation of negative online incidences. This correlates with some stats from the strategy document:

  • Only 2% of children have the critical literacy skills needed to discern truthful content from false information
  • Half of children aged 12-15 have seen hateful content online in the past year, however, the majority (58%) chose to ignore it and took no action
  • 43% of children speak to people they don’t know in real-life online, with half of children aged 8-12 having friends or followers online that they don’t know

What’s the solution?

We designed and created Natterhub as an immersive, gated social media platform for primary schools to teach critical thinking skills, learn the knowledge of being online, and understand the impact of online behaviour. It teaches the very essence of digital citizenship in an engaging and fun environment that clearly has been designed with children in mind. Unlike the internet.

“We know that there is a correlation between vulnerable children offline and vulnerable children online. Our intention was to bring media literacy clearly into the primary timetable, it made sense for us to use an approach which embeds online safety, digital safeguarding and raises the profile of online kindness across our curriculum. Our children live out a considerable amount of their childhood online so we have a duty of care to teach them what they need to know in order to thrive in a digital landscape.” 

Debbie Kelly, Headteacher at Beaumont Academy in Huddersfield

The good news is that even though media literacy is not a statutory subject in the current National Curriculum, there are easy ways to integrate it across the timetable with a shift in mindset at the whole school level. Of course there are online safety targets within the compulsory RSHE curriculum and also aspects of  the subject in ICT and English but adopting a blended approach across the entire curriculum can be less daunting than you might expect and carries many benefits. We have collected data from the first 12 months of integrated media literacy in Natterhub schools and the competence and understanding of their digital footprint, privacy setting knowledge and the impact of bullying has been significantly improved. 

Just as pupils are taught a code of conduct in schools, places of worship, using public transport, having regular, discrete and regular conversations about being online will make clear inroads towards safe and savvy digital independence. Even without a platform, there are strategies and habits that schools can adopt that will help pupils to understand the importance of online safety. 

What schools can do straight away:

  • Agree that every member of the school community plays an important role in keeping children safe online (even the technophobes)
  • Raise the profile of rule setting for offline (manners, opening doors etc) and online (being kind, open minded, respectful etc.
  • Offer regular certificates/rewards for digital citizenship and mention preferred online behaviour at every assembly and RSHE lesson (blended lives require this)
  • Agree as a staff and discuss with pupils  about the positive impact of technology and the benefits of online activity and digital communication
  • Make use of free resources that enables pupils to practice online safety such as Natterhub’s gated social media newsfeed - children need to apply what they have learned in lessons
  • Create a triangular approach to media literacy between teacher - pupil - parent/carer using tools to support this

 

For more information on how you can raise the profile of media literacy in your school and helpful advice please go to:

Advice on platforms, listing risks, privacy settings and other FAQs: https://bit.ly/2VIUUyS 

Youth Board air their views on popular YouTubers: https://bit.ly/3iBbx8n 

Download FREE report, ‘How children really feel about being online’: https://bit.ly/3CFbUH5 

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