Does school teach us how to resist propaganda?

01.09.2017

Propastop believes that the best defence against influence activity, information attacks and false news is competence in media matters and being in the habit of early critical thinking. In honour of September 1. we decided to look at how these topics are taught in Estonian schools.

There is a mandatory media education course in the 11th grade of Estonian high schools called „ Media and influence“. It is part of the Estonian language and literature course and is taught by Estonian language teachers. The students are familiarized with the nature of communication, media channels and journalism genres in a 35-hour course. Seeing the thought behind media messages, hidden influences, talking about commercials as well as touching upon analysis of discourse are also part of the course.

There are currently two different textbooks used for teaching: „Media’s influence „as well as „Media and influencing“. The author of the first textbook is a teacher of Estonian language and literature at Karlova High School in Tartu, Külliki Kask and the second was written by Tartu University lecturer, Katrin Aava and a teacher of Estonian language and literature at Gustav Adolf High School, Ülle Salumäe.

In addition to the mandatory course, there also exists a separate media outreach program, at several schools (ex. Lähte high school and Kuristiku high school) where journalistic material is dealt with in an in-depth manner. Similar specialized training for interested young people is also taught in some Estonian Russian language schools (ex. Tõnismäe technical secondary school). How much information and in what context is actually talked about regarding media and influencing at ordinary Russian language high schools, was not available for Propastop to give a proper overview. Is the current standard level for media training sufficient? We asked the opinion of the chairperson of the Estonian Association of Media Teachers and Tartu University journalism researcher, Kadri Ugur.

In her opinion, the most positive aspect of it is that this course exists and is in the school curriculum – for example, media is not taught in Latvian schools. Still, Ugur is concerned about the placement of the material of the course. Because media training is part of the Estonian language classes, it relates primarily to written texts and consequently to traditional journalism. Modern visual communication methods as well as social and new media are frequently not dealt with, especially when the teacher does not feel strongly about the topic.

In Ungur’s opinion the development of critical thinking and analysis of media bias are the most lacking in current teaching. Here in every school the teacher determines the level according to their own interest in the subject. As a rule, they see the media course more as a beginning course in journalism rather than the cultivation of critical media users.

It was also apparent to Propastop that the textbooks written in 2013 touch on propaganda only as an invasion, not considering the recently risen focus on information attacks, follow up media, false news, journalistic magazine propaganda publications, trolls etc.

How could schools better teach coping with today’s media?  Is the amount of course material sufficient? In which way should we offer advanced media training to teachers? Could Propastop be of more assistance to schools in media education?

If you have answers, comments or ideas concerning these questions, then please send them to the Propastop editor’s email: propastop@gmail.com or write to our Facebook page.

Photo: MsSaraKelly / Flickr / CC