Media, in all its many (and growing) forms, occupies more and more of modern life. Yet educators mostly neglect its increasing effect on young people. So it's especially significant that the Ministry of Education in Ontario, Canada, has now recognized the need for an expanded definition of literacy, one that includes print, screen-based, and electronic media.
As a result, for the first time, a media-literacy curriculum has been mandated in Ontario's language and English programs for grades 1-12.
According to the Association for Media Literacy (AML), in Ontario, "Media literacy is concerned with the process of understanding and using the mass media. It is also concerned with helping students develop an informed and critical understanding of the nature of the mass media, the techniques used by them, and the impact of these techniques."
As part of the new curriculum, even the basic definition of text has been expanded. Today, elementary school students analyze or "read" texts as varied as story books (the old paradigm), DVD and CD covers, and even T-shirt logos. Secondary school students explore YouTube, news reporting on global conflicts, and even the marketing of feature films.
Thematic units in the curriculum address a wide range of topics, including advertising and public relations, representations of gender, violence, and race in the media, the role of the media in global citizenship, and new converging technologies.
Classroom media analysis focuses on three key areas: how
a text is produced (including questions of ownership and control),
the ideology and values conveyed through the media,
and the ways audiences are targeted by, and respond to,
Classroom work emphasizes the importance of active
involvement with the media, connecting it to democratic
rights, active citizenship, and technological literacy. Courses
offer students the opportunity to analyze and produce a variety
of print and electronic stories and develop a critical
understanding of the roles media and technology play in
"There are few curricular outcomes more crucial than
media literacy," says Patrick Cartlidge, a teacher of English
and media studies
in Toronto and
a member of his
board. "The ability
to navigate a complex and challenging cultural world helps
students define themselves within an increasingly anachronistic
As one Toronto student puts it, "Media education creates a
broader perspective on how information is constructed and
sent to us. With this knowledge, we can better command and
control what used to be in control of us."
Ultimately, media-literacy education aims to produce students
who have a knowledge and understanding of how the
media operates, how it constructs meaning, how it can best be
used, and how to evaluate the information it presents. As the
AML succinctly puts it, "Media literacy is a life skill."
Carolyn Wilson is an instructor at the Ontario Institute for
Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and president
of the Association for Media Literacy, in Ontario, Canada.