By Noha Bawazir and Alton Grizzle, UNESCO
Recent decades have been marked by rapid technological transformations that have completely upended the ways people interact, communicate, and access information about the world. Online citizens now possess the entirety of human knowledge in the palms of their hands, and news and information can ricochet around the world in seconds. There are vast new opportunities to educate, inform, and organize.
The defining challenge is how to ensure that societies and individuals benefit more from this evolving information ecosystem while they navigate the challenges. UNESCO is committed to supporting every community and individual across the globe to acquire media and information literacy competencies. Why? To empower people to best access, understand, critically evaluate, use, and create information. As the world witnesses great advances in media and information literacy and the pivotal role it plays, ensuring that citizens have the skills needed to think critically about media and information in the digital age is no doubt one of the defining challenges of our time.
Over the past few years, UNESCO and partners have put in place several key initiatives to build momentum and support for media and information literacy. UNESCO’s 193 Member States underlined the importance of media and information literacy by proclaiming Global Media and Information Literacy Week (24–31 October) in 40 C/Resolution 56. This was further affirmed by over 200 countries when the United Nations General Assembly endorsed media and information literacy as an imperative public matter through Resolution A/RES/75/267.*
UNESCO, together with many of our partners, has supported training on media and information literacy in over 100 countries, reaching hundreds of thousands of citizens, including teachers. Stakeholders are coming together to sustain media and information literacy. The UNESCO Media and Information Literacy Alliance has expanded, with members in 110 countries, including Palestine.
Social media is more and more central to people’s lives. People learn socially as they connect, browse, and play. We must find strategies to penetrate social media with media and information-literacy learning in a nontraditional and organic manner. The UNESCO MIL CLICKS social media initiative helps people acquire media and information literacy in the daily use of the internet. Through MIL CLICKS, over 20,000 young people engage in peer education (#ThinkBeforeSharing and #ThinkBeforeClicking). This includes social media content as well as ready-to-broadcast audio messages to counter the COVID-19 misinformation and disinformation in 12 languages, which were distributed by radio stations having 47,000,000 listeners and 42,000,000 social media users. The audio messages for radio stations have been adapted and translated into 45 languages.
UNESCO presses to ensure that young people become co-leaders and co-creators of media and information literacy. Over 300 youth organizations, 100 of which are in Africa, have been supported by UNESCO to integrate and strengthen media and information literacy in their policies and operations, reaching hundreds of thousands of young people. There is also hopeful evidence of national level take-up of media and information literacy. Twenty-five countries are currently taking steps to develop national media and information literacy policy and strategy.
But there is much more to be done to achieve continued success. Developing and implementing national policies and strategies are urgent actions to achieve media and information literacy for all. Steps being taken in Palestine are promising.
In fact, in this regard, Palestine is considered one of the Arab countries that has made important achievements in media literacy in various fields, through the activities and programs of universities, civil and media institutions, training centers, and some relevant government institutions. There is a clear interest in media and digital safety, and there are university programs in this field. Yet, applying media literacy is focused for the most part on media education rather than on the critical and analytical thinking needed to build a knowledgeable society. Hence, there is a need to further emphasize the importance of media education and literacy as a key factor in developing critical and analytical thinking.
Stemming from this global umbrella, and from the local realities and needs, UNESCO in the Palestinian context has been spearheading the work in MIL through the development of a national strategy for media and information literacy, which has been initiated through a large participatory and consultative process. The document aims to provide policy guidance, on one hand, and to introduce the media education curriculum to schools and universities based on the UNESCO Media and Information Literacy Policy Guidelines and Model (MIL) Curriculum, on the other hand. This work was conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education, the Government Information Office, and the Prime Minister’s Office.
To celebrate this year’s Global MIL week, UNESCO Ramallah is planning to invite all its partners to a reflection and open discussion on the future implementation of the MIL strategy and how this could be integrated as a public good. UNESCO, alongside its partners in the communication and information unit at the Media Development Center (MDC) at Birzeit University, the Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation (PYALARA), Al-Quds Open University, and members of the various quality assurance groups at the Ministries of Education and Higher Education have also provided essential training for young Palestinians from different universities in the West Bank and Gaza to become MIL multipliers and trainers. This work will be pursued because the meaningful and structured participation of youth is key to success in this area.
Assessing Media Institutions Strategic Management and Extending Media Literacy in Palestinian Higher Education is yet another collaborative effort that UNESCO is coordinating with Al-Quds Open University, among other Palestinian universities, which aims to develop an MIL curriculum based on the Media and Information Literacy in Journalism: A Handbook for Journalists and Journalism Educators. In 2019, PYALARA won the UNESCO MIL Award for its extensive work in MIL, whose motivating slogan is “MIL is a way of life.” The MIL Alliance action promotes international cooperation among individuals, organizations, and several stakeholders that work to promote media and information literacy. The award aims to acknowledge the contribution of individuals and groups who creatively include media and information literacy in their work.
It is critical that in Palestine, citizens become media and information literate and equipped to navigate the challenges of the media landscape development and participate more meaningfully in their societies. If adequately trained, they will be able to differentiate between reliable information and misinformation, gain know-how, and learn where to locate trustworthy sources of facts and informed opinion and why it is crucial not to circulate unverified content. Women and men of all ages can exercise their full agency in the information ecology, whether or not they have access to digital technology.
*Resolution A/RES/75/267 Resolution adapted by the General Assembly.
Visit the UNESCO website to find out more about how UNESCO works with governments, individuals, and communities to foster media and information literacy. Download our many resources and get involved in our programs to help bring key media and information literacy competencies to life – https://en.unesco.org/themes/media-and-information-literacy.
Organizations and individuals that work on media- and information-literacy-related issues are invited to join the UNESCO Media and Information Literacy Alliance NOW!
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