Amman, Jordan, July 2017 – In a public school in Amman, students in grades 7, 8 and 9 are debating the authenticity of a photo advertisement depicting a large hamburger. The lesson is part of the newly established Media and Information Literacy (MIL) clubs being piloted in eight public schools as part of UNESCO’s Support to Media in Jordan project, which is funded by the European Union.
The lesson on advertising, photo alteration and editing generates lively debate about media and advertising ethics and the technical skills needed to edit photos, as students tackle these issues for the first time. “We have learned so much about media. Citizens are no longer the receivers of information, but are also the producers of media. After this club, I’m more aware of what I publish on social media,” says Toulin Mahaden, an 8th grader.
In the clubs, implemented through a partnership with the Jordan Media Institute (JMI), students are empowered to understand the functions of media and other information providers. In addition to analyzing photos for credibility, they learn how to identify media bias, how to verify sources of information, and how to protect their own privacy online, and how to make their own videos and media content, among other topics.
At the Bent Adi Comprehensive School for girls in Amman, students shared their excitement and avid participation in the clubs. “Everyone wants to join, and even our parents are interested,” says Toulin. “My parents have learned a great deal from me, especially since we consume media a lot. They learned about stereotyping, how to look at photos critically. I explain about news bias and news framing to my family, and they are very interested,” she added.
At the start of the 2016/2017 school year, UNESCO and JMI trained 24 teachers at the schools who have since been facilitating the extracurricular clubs. An awareness session was also organized for parents. “When we spoke to the parents, some of them wanted to join the clubs. They even asked if the teachers could organize a separate club for them! They are really keen to learn about these concepts and are learning through their kids,” said Abdallah AlKafaween, a trainer in the program.
As for the impact on the students, it has opened their eyes to important issues. Another lesson focuses on news framing and recognizing the editorial lines of media outlets. Students learn to pay close attention to the language that is used in news articles, and by distinguishing the use of words such as “martyr,” “victim,” or “casualty,” they are able to identify the underlying assumptions of a story.
“We have more confidence now. We know how to think about the effect of news on people,” says Toulin.
Critical thinking skills the key to sustainable development
Besides stimulating critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creation, students in the MIL clubs also learn about citizenship, including respecting fundamental human rights, the importance of freedom of expression, media and information, and the right to know in a democratic society. Ms. Abir Neimi, the principal of the Bent Adi School, has been very supportive of the program, acknowledging that, “there is a big difference in the students’ awareness of news, facts, rumors, etc. The students in the club are now raising awareness among other students in the school, and also within their families, and it is spreading.”
As part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, SDG goal 16, target 10 focuses on ensuring public access to information and protecting fundamental freedoms. UNESCO believes that empowerment of people, including young people, through Media and Information Literacy is an important prerequisite for fostering equitable access to information and knowledge and promoting free, independent and pluralistic media and information systems.
To this end, the Support to Media in Jordan project is planning to expand the program into more schools around Jordan and has received overwhelming support from HRH Princess Rym Ali, as well as HE Minister of Education Dr. Omar Razzaz, who visited one of the clubs in March of this year. “You are very lucky,” he told the students during his visit, “but every student in Jordan should have access to these concepts and should learn what you are learning.”