Media literacy – Why it should be statutory at KS2

The national curriculum needs to change, to ensure we’re teaching all Key Stage 2 pupils about media literacy

Al Kingsley
by Al Kingsley

It can be all too easy to presume that today’s children are ‘digital nomads’. They have had access to almost limitless content and increasingly sophisticated devices at their fingertips from early childhood. However, we shouldn’t confuse this for genuine media literacy.

We risk doing a disservice to the younger generation by mistaking high levels of usage for competence.

Children are certainly spending more time using devices and navigating content online. However, it is also clear that this usage is not always positive. Nor does the level of usage correlate with effective engagement or true understanding of the media they are consuming. 

We, rightfully, give much attention to guaranteeing children’s online safety.

Caregivers and teachers can shield children from certain types of online harm. We can do this by monitoring their usage, as well as making use of readily available programmes that block potential threats or even detect keywords which can indicate when they may be at risk.  

However, these measures only offer protection against some of the dangers that lurk online.

Media literacy meaning

To allow children to thrive in a constantly evolving digital world, we must provide them with the skills to safely navigate the media landscape themselves.

In the context of an increasingly digitised environment, we need to set our sights higher than assuring online safety for our pupils; rather, we should ready them to flourish online.

We must ensure our children’s education equips them with the skills to accurately evaluate and interpret digital media.  

The law requires us teaching children vital lessons about online safety. However, the current national curriculum makes only a small mention of teaching children to ‘explore how the media present information’.

This recommendation, as part of the non-statutory guidance for citizenship lessons, points to the concerning possibility that the teaching of media literacy will be at best scattered, on a national level. 

Ofcom’s recent report on Media Use and Attitudes suggests that only one in three children aged eight –11 were able to correctly identify sponsored search engine results. This is a worryingly low figure, given the pervasive use of search engines in daily life.

The report also highlights that this age group is also less likely to receive direct parental supervision of their online activities. This is compared to younger age groups. KS2 thus appears to be a pivotal moment in which children are branching into independent exploration online.

Supporting this age group with the skills to understand the content they are accessing online should be an indispensable part of their education.  

Digital citizenship

Educators need to consider how they can incorporate digital citizenship skills across the whole curriculum. This will help prepare young people to interact with media in a safe, responsible and informed way.

For example, we can achieve this by using technology across a range of subjects. We can also teach children how to engage with one another, work collaboratively on projects and communicate effectively online.

Incorporating the use of online resources in the classroom encourages pupils to engage critically with their sources; they will also learn to question their assumptions in a systematic manner.

In particular, it is becoming increasingly important to show impressionable young people how to evaluate news sources. We cannot overlook such a lesson, and could incorporate it across a variety of subjects. 

For instance, helping pupils to discern between real and fake social media profiles protects them from false news stories.

Showing them examples of unreliable sources alongside trustworthy ones for comparative purposes can help them learn to challenge before consuming.   

Media literacy should be a key component of a Key Stage 2 curriculum. Supporting children to become mindful media consumers will not only help to protect them from disinformation or falsities online, but also promote their critical analysis skills and problem-solving skills from a young age. These attributes will stand them in good stead across all subjects and throughout their educational journeys.

Beyond their education, empowering our children with media literacy skills will allow them to be informed digital citizens who are able to discern truth in an increasingly confused and competitive media environment.  

Al Kingsley is the chair of Hamptons Academy Trust and group CEO of NetSupport. Follow Al on Twitter @AlKingsley_Edu 

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