Media Education for Children in Cyprus: Educating pupils to critically read advertisements
Antigoni Themistokleous, Cyprus Radio Television Authority
Technological development and advancements in communication technologies have transformed and redesigned not only the media ecosystem but equally individuals’ experience and engagement with the media. The current media ecosystem and individuals’ engagement with it represent opportunities and challenges for individuals as content creators,consumers, and also as a participatory public (Papaioannou & Themistokleous, 2018). Moving away from the media environment where some (the few) produce and many (the majority) con-sume media content towards the one where every single individual has more interests and greater participation in contents’ production made it imperative to rethink and enrich media education. This reality underpins the need to stop understanding media in passive terms but rather to develop individuals’ selectivity, creativity, and awareness needed for the new media age (Jenkins, 2009) and to establish an adequate foundation for reflec-tive and effective media education as an integral part of schooling (Kennedy, 1993:1). Taking into consideration the increasingly conver-gent media environment and the changing audience habits regarding media contents’ consumption and crea-tion, media regulation should no longer pertains only to restrictions on what is distributed, how, when and through which channel. Contemporary media regulation rather exceeds economic objectives and is equally justified by appeal to social considerations of freedom, justice, and human rights. Within this context, additional challenges for media policy-makers and regulators are generated. Media literacy pertains to the ability to understand and interpret different forms and means of media representation with a critical eye (Livingstone, 2004; Potter, 2013) and encompasses not only info-competence but also other text- and image-based skills that enable media literate individuals to interpret media mes-sages and communication services in a comprehensive way (Frau-Meigs and Torrent, 2009a:17). To this extent, media literacy emerged as a key theme that asks 21st cen-tury policy-makers to rethink media regulation, in terms of regulatory objectives and delivery mode, and reshape regulation, accordingly, in order to ensure its effective-ness. In this light, media education is an urgent neces-sity and media literacy became a strategic policy issue and a main regulatory objective, the importance of which is also underlined in the Audiovisual Media Ser-vices Directives of 2010 and 2018, where it is provided that Member States should promote and take measures for the development of media literacy in all sections of society and for all media (AVMS, 2010: Preamble 47 and Article 33; AVMS, 2018: Preamble 59 and Article 33a).1Upon the transposition of the aforementioned Directives into national law, Cyprus Radio Televi-sion Authority (CRTA), as the independent regulatory authority for audiovisual media service providers in the Republic of Cyprus, acquired formal role in promoting media literacy. Article 30C of The Radio and Television Broadcasters Law and Article 18D of The Cyprus Broad-casting Corporation Law, chapter 300A refers to the role and responsibilities of CRTA to endorse the design and coordination of the development and implementation of, among others, educational programs to enhance media literacy levels in the Republic of Cyprus. Media Literacy by CRTA seeks to develop individuals’ critical thinking on and about any kind of media content by equipping them with skills and competencies, necessary in the dig-ital and converged media environment, so that they are self-conscious media users, performing either as media content’ consumers or producers across various media platforms. Media literate individuals harness the affor-dances offered by the entire media ecosystem while at the same time recognise and mitigate any risks or dan-gers, being therefore capable of protecting themselves from harmful material but also of using media effective-ly and safely and having socially responsible behaviour when they create media content (Experts Committee on Media Literacy, 2012)2. To this extent, media literacy policies by CRTA seeks principally to enhance individu-als’ engagement with the media and to improve how people engage with mediated texts produced, received, and exchanged via different media channels rather than emphasising operational aptitudes and techniques. Within this framework, media education in primary schools has been a priority for CRTA, and is regarded not as a protectionist or paternalistic activity seeking to ameliorate pupils’ preferences but as an empower-ing activity to develop pupils’ critical thinking and atti-tude towards any kind of media content. This choice reflects the primacy of adopting critical approaches in media education, which enable and empower pupils to apply the acquired skills and knowledge to any media text (Masterman, 2005). It additionally endorses criti-cal autonomy in relationship to all media by promoting independent critical thinking and thus allowing pupils to exercise judgment, to examine, and understand com-plex realities. Within this context, media education is understood as a key element upholding informed citi-zenship. This article presents the Media Literacy Experiential Workshop project which is considered the most popu-lar and notable Media Literacy project undertaken by CRTA. The key objectives of the workshops are to make pupils competent to recognise how choices are made by creators of media messages; to describe and associate these choices with the population that is more likely to be interested in each message and to relate them with certain purposes; and to be aware of the motives and intentions behind the choices make by advertisers. From this point of view, this project correlates and responds to fundamental principles of media education as discussed by Jenkins et al. (2009), and in particular to the develop-ment of pupils’ independent judgment in the new medi-ated landscape of increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques so that pupils are empowered to distinguish marketing from enlightenment, fact from fiction, argu-ment from documentation (Jenkins et al., 2009: 79–84).For the purposes of this project, CRTA in collabo-ration with the Cyprus Pedagogical Institute (CPI)3developed two different Media Literacy Experiential Workshops and respective lesson plans for pupils in pri-mary education; one for pupils in Years 1–3 and the sec-ond for those in Years 4–6. The lesson plans were jointly designed by Officers of CRTA and CPI, whereas the workshops were delivered by a CRTA officer and Peda-gogical Institute staff for the first two school years; from 2016–2017 they were delivered only by a CRTA officer.Both workshops instrumentalise advertisements that were broadcast on television. The usefulness of advertis-ing within media education derives from its structural influence upon the whole spectrum of the media ecosystem (Masterman, 2005). Taking as a starting point that all media messages are constructions depended on deci-sions and choices as to what is included or excluded in the messages, how messages are created, and for which purpose(s) they are created (see Kellner and Share, 2005) and considering that asking questions on and about media content is at the heart of media literacy, a num-ber of advertisements are shown in the class followed by discussion. Through questions asked by the instruc-tor, pupils are facilitated to understand and analyse the messages of the mediated content. It is anticipated that teaching pupils to ask questions about mediated content constitutes the first fundamental step in enabling them to advance their skills to accept or reject both explicit and implicit media messages based on critical judgments. Therefore, pupils with the support of their instructor critically examine the displayed advertisements by dis-cussing the five core aspects of mediated texts as those aspects have evolved from traditional categories of rhe-torical and literary analysis. These five aspects of medi-ated texts refer to (a) authorship, (b) format, © audience, (d) content, and (e) purpose, and are very similar to the key media concepts that according to Buckingham (2003) could provide an effective theoretical framework for ana-lysing media content. The five aforementioned aspects of mediated texts are understood as core elements of media literacy education and are largely embedded in the les-son plans for both workshops. Scholars like Masterman (2005) argue that teaching pupils to ask questions about authors and audiences of mediated texts, about messages and meanings, representations and realities allow them to understand how mediated content is always informed and constrained by economic issues, that create and maintain power relationships. Echoing Masterman’s (2005) point of view, educa-tors and trainers place emphasis on having the pupils comprehend that media content is primarily about rep-resentations and by asking appropriate questions urge them to realise the distinction between things, ideas, and reality (what in Semiotics is known as the signified) and their representation that is portrayed in the media, in other words the signifier (Masterman, 2005:18). This approach is consistent with the fundamental principle in media education and in media studies more gener-ally, that the media are symbolic systems. Pupils are encouraged to think critically of the media content and media messages as symbols and representations of real-ity and not to unproblematically accept them as reflec-tions of external reality. Ref lecting critically on the literature on Media Education it becomes evident that media education is a dynamic and constantly evolving practice that requiresperpetual revision in order to address current and topi-cal needs and challenges in the media ecosystem (Mas-terman, 1993; Frau-Meigs and Torrent, 2009a:18). Mas-terman (1993) eloquently argued about the changes and transformation in media education and described the fundamental principles as these have developed from the inoculative paradigm to the Popular Arts paradigm and then shifted to the representational paradigm, which emphasised questions of politics, power, and representa-tion and with which the described workshops are more closely related.The existing literature on Media Education consti-tutes a valuable source of information in order to design the most appropriate approaches (see for example Frau-Meigs and Torrent, 2009b). Definitely media education cannot concentrate only on understanding television. In our era media education is and should be inclusive and with reference to all sectors of the media ecosys-tem. The described workshops indeed instrumentalise advertising which is easily and clearly traceable in vari-ous forms in the entire media ecosystem. The rationale underpinning the project under analysis is consistent with Masterman’s argument of “the grounding of media education in the dominant visual-televisual experiences of students” (Masterman, 1993) since the examples used in the classroom come from the television content, yet pupils are encouraged to use the knowledge they gained through their experience with televisual content in the online, digital context as well. Both workshops delivered to primary education pupils neither focus on the adverse aspect and undesirable consequences of advertising nor teach against advertising. They rather foreground knowledge on how certain lifestyles, values, and points of views are represented in advertising while other are omitted and what this selection means. In this light they emphasise on developing understanding regarding the role and function of modern advertising agencies and the different purposes that advertising serves in the con-temporary digital media environment in an attempt to enhance the critical autonomy of students. The workshops are mostly integrated into language courses. It is worthwhile to clarify that media education in Cyprus does not have the same history as in countries like Denmark (see Tufte, 1993) or Canada (see Pungente, 1993) as it is neither formally included in the national school curricula, nor in the preparation for teaching edu-cation, while systemic and systematic educational pro-grams and policy agendas are rather absent (Papaioan-nou and Themistokleous, 2018). The significance of this project resides in the fact that it is a national program covering equally urban and rural areas, and all school establishments of primary education operating in the Republic of Cyprus are eligible to apply to participate in the workshops. The success of the project rests on the demand on behalf of educators so that their students attend the workshops.4 It is noted that since the project was firstly launched in 2014–2015 and for the first two school-years, there was a call and a public announcement so that educators and teachers register their class to par-ticipate in the project. Yet, since 2017–2018 educators and teachers were already well aware of and interested in this project and therefore there was no need for any public announcement. The following subchapters describe the content and activities of the two Media Literacy Work-shops for Primary School pupils.
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