The mediaforum symposium on Saturday last provoked a couple of thoughts I wanted to get down before they faded away. Firstly, I greatly enjoyed listening to most of the conference participants. Given it was primarily a conference about education policy – something I am a stranger to- this was an achievement in itself.
Beyond my own selfish need to be constantly entertained by the world around me (a trait my son seems to have inherited, at least for the time being) a few major threads of discussion were teased out. Many of these are probably familiar to teachers and other education professionals, but they were new to me.
The curriculum is a battleground- with lots of various interests competing to have their pet skill inserted into the minds of Ireland’s next generation of citizens/ consumers.
Critical Media Literacy is a single part of a single subject at Primary school level. And, as we learnt at the conference from Conor McHugh whose MA thesis dealt with this issue, many teachers felt unable to teach the subject. None could remember ever recieving any training in it and they felt that they had no resources to help them plan their lessons. Conor’s day job is as a primary school teacher in St. Thomas’ Senior National school in Jobstown in Tallaght. He developed a teaching pack for his colleagues and found that the children responded dramatically well to being asked to use their critical faculties. So much so that not a single piece of behavior requiring discipline was recorded during these classes- something he said was unheard of in the school.
In addition, the skills learned in CML turned out to improve the children’s learning experience across a range of subjects.
There was a surprising gap in the discussions where I would have expected consideration of the place of media literacy in a second level context. Fleeting reference was made to the religion classes as an opportunity for reflection and to the teaching of ‘film as text’ as a widely adopted strand available in the English course. Nobody addressed what seemed to me to be the obvious question of a Transition Year strand on the topic. I’ll return to this later.
Helen Doherty, a lecturer in Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art and Design, outlined some of the work in progress at EU level. There was a stunningly badly written definition of Media Literacy which we were assured was a work in progress. If I may make a suggestion, the simple division of the unwieldy sentence into two shorter punchier ones would do wonders for the poor old reader.
And then on to the speaker whose contribution was probably the most important of the day. Certainly Anne Looney made the most revealing speech of the morning. In her capacity as CEO of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment she was in a position to respond directly to the symposium’s collective call for the integration of critical media literacy into the school curriculum. And, in a way, I suppose she did respond.
Her talk, entitled ‘It’s Curriculum Jim, but not as we know it’ suggested that wanting to teach children things we’d like them to learn was a comforting, but basically outmoded way of thinking about education. She compared it to the structure of the original Star Trek, where old certainties are affirmed in the face of new challenges. In contrast, she suggested that a modern curriculum had to acknowledge that children could actively avoid teachers and theirteachings online, and create their own fragmented, isolated and disjointed narratives of education and media. She compared this to Lost, and suggested it was the post-modern life children were used to.
There was more such. The mediaforum people say they’ll be releasing audio of the talks, so I’ll let you listen to the whole thing yourselves when I have a link.
What mattered, at the heart of her argument, was the abandonment of important parts of children’s education to whatever they might pick up from using the commercial social networks. This was an excuse- an unconvincing excuse- for doing nothing in the face of all the day’s evidence of the need for action and the value of same to children, as well as society itself in the long run.
More crazy curriculum capers later…
NOTE: This post was originally made public with a mis-spelled title. This shows that problems in education are not confined to children. And that I can’t spell.