The Media and the Message: Media Literacy as Life Skill in Canada
Canadian students are taught to look for the real meanings in the daily barrage of information.
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, media messages.
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 their lives.
"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 district's school board. "The ability to navigate a complex and challenging cultural world helps students define themselves within an increasingly anachronistic school system."
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."