Media literacy

Interesting African Studies on Disinformation and Media Literacy

Image courtesy: Namibia Fact Check

A number of good continent-focused studies and reports have come out recently, and two in particular stand out.

Firstly, in March 2022, an interesting report on teaching Media and Information Literacy in the education sector in South Africa was published.

The report, titled ‘An assessment of media literacy and fact-checking training needs in South African schools and universities‘, was commissioned by Africa’s oldest fact-checking service, Africa Checkas part of a project called “Becoming a Responsible Consumer of Media”, and was funded by a grant from the United States Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa.

The cover page of the Africa Check study on teaching media and information literacy in South African schools and universities.

The Africa Check report could also be relevant to Namibia – given the similarities in factors and conditions affecting the two societies and education systems – and could be used as a basis for initiating serious discussions on the type of media literacy and information that should be mainstreamed into the Namibian education sector, both at the basic education level and at the tertiary level.

Among the 10 findings reported were:

  • Media literacy can be understood as an ecology of skills, such as the ability to read media texts critically, to understand the relationship between media and audiences, and to know how the media production process works. Our research has highlighted the importance of adding a new element to this ecology, namely disinformation literacy, which can be seen as a means of acquiring the critical and technical skills necessary for media users to countering the spread of misinformation online.
  • There is no national, structured and uniform teaching of media education in South African high schools, although some skills are part of the curricula of different subjects, including life orientation, English, technology and history.
  • Where media literacy is part of existing curricula, a wide range of skills are taught, in particular how to use media, how to produce media content and how to be safe online. However, there is much less emphasis on how to fact-check and check the media.
  • We found evidence that media education is taught in one form or another at all South African universities where courses in journalism, media and communication studies are offered. However, these skills are not taught as stand-alone subjects, but integrated into larger modules.
  • At South African universities, there is no centralized curriculum, so individual professors are free to develop their own course content.
  • The majority of high school educators reported being confident in their own abilities to teach media literacy.
  • Media education at secondary level is hampered by several factors. Among these, inequalities in access to digital devices and online resources are the most important.

Of the five recommendations, the following are:

  • Media education programs should be developed with multi-media and multi-modal delivery methods in mind. A strong emphasis on mobile phones as delivery vehicles is recommended, due to the ubiquity of mobile phones in South Africa, relative ease of access and zero-rating some websites accessible in mobile mode.

Channels of disinformation

The other interesting study is the ‘Pathways and Effects of Disinformation: Case Studies from Five African Countries‘ report produced by the Uganda-based office Collaboration on International ICT Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA)and released in May 2022.

Coverage of the CIPESA report on the spread of disinformation in five African countries.

The report specifies the purpose of the study:

“The aim of the study was to understand the nature, perpetrators, strategies and pathways of disinformation, as well as its effects on democratic actors such as civil society, bloggers, government critics and activists. In addition, the study examined the adequacy and effectiveness of remedial action by social media platforms as well as government responses to misinformation. It is hoped that the evidence generated will inform multi-stakeholder advocacy for greater transparency and vigorous action by platforms and governments to minimize harm and combat misinformation.

– CIPESA

The report examines how and by whom disinformation has spread in five countries: Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.

This report is well worth a read.


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