The citizens of the 21st Century live in a digital, connected and media saturated world mainly experienced through digital technology. The proliferation of mass media and new technologies has brought about decisive changes in human communication processes and behaviour. With the Digital Age already arrived in Africa and the rest of the world, digitization has provided new and exciting ways to access and share information and knowledge; but only for some, with substantive swathes of the population especially in the rural areas still unable to tap from the opportunities of free expression and participation in conversations that affect their lives.
The nexus between information, media and citizenship can be illustrated in the backdrop of major societal trends where knowledge and how it is communicated to others play a central role in shaping economic growth, social development, cultural enrichment, political empowerment and the consolidation of democratic systems. At the global level, UNESCO promotes the concept of knowledge societies which are inclusive, pluralistic, equitable and participatory based on four major principles: equal access to quality education for all; universal access to information; cultural and linguistic diversity; and freedom of expression.
Media and information literacy skills are therefore essential building blocks for creation of knowledge societies that includes dimensions of social, cultural, economic, political and institutional transformation. Knowledge is also an important resource for economic growth and for empowering and developing all sectors of society.
Kenya Vision 2030
In Kenya, the economic blueprint of Vision 2030 aspires to a period of economic growth with improved quality of life in the country. Central to this status is the development of a knowledge economy that will be driven by media and new technologies which present unprecedented opportunities for far wider participation by Kenyans in the national and global discourse.
It is therefore imperative that elaborate MIL initiatives are taken to bring the various citizen groups up to speed with the rapid development of digital technologies through media and information literacy. Media Literacy will create a media literate and informed population among Kenyan citizens with capacity for access to, understanding and production of the new media environment. It will also arm them with skills to participate in governance as active and critical citizens able to take advantage of the opportunities generated in the Information Age. To paraphrase UNESCO, the measurement of MIL is a must for any country that wishes to promote and develop the knowledge societies of its citizens.
It is against this background that the Centre for Media and Information Literacy in Kenya (CMIL-Kenya) was founded to spearhead the uptake of media and information literacy among various citizen groups in Kenya and promote public participation in governance processes through civic engagement initiatives.
CMIL-Kenya has partnered with UNESCO and other global organizations to midwife these MIL interventions in light of globalisation and the explosion of ICTs in the country.
Media and Information Literacy (MIL) is used as a composite concept to refer to a set of competencies that empowers citizens to access, retrieve, understand, evaluate and use, create, as well as share information and media content in all formats, using various tools, in a critical, ethical and effective way, in order to participate and engage in personal, professional and societal activities.
Media literate citizens can access, find, evaluate, use the information they need in ethical and effective ways; understand the role and functions of media and other information providers such as libraries, museums and archives, including those on the Internet, in democratic societies and in the lives of individuals; understand the conditions under which media and information providers can fulfil their functions; critically evaluate information and media content; engage with media and information providers for self-expression, life-long learning, democratic participation, and good governance; and updated skills (including ICT skills) needed to produce content, .
Media and Information Literacy (MIL) brings together Information Literacy and Media Literacy, along with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Digital Literacy, as a new literacy construct that helps empower people, communities and nations to participate in and contribute to global knowledge societies
UNESCO and other MIL protagonists hold that media and information literacy (MIL) is essential to empower citizenries all around the world to have full benefits of the fundamental human rights and freedoms as well as enable sound social discourse. It also enables citizens to be aware of their responsibilities in the context of these freedoms, which include the responsibility to demand quality media and information services and to use information and technology ethically. This is very much in tune with Goal 16 of the SDGs which reads as, ‘Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.’ MIL empowers citizens, including children and youth, with competencies related to media, information, ICT and other aspects of literacy which are needed for the 21st century existence.
Once implemented, media and information literacy (MIL) aims to empower citizens by providing them with the competencies- which include knowledge, skills and attitudes- necessary to gainfully engage within the plethora of media and information sources and outlets. MIL includes the following elements or learning outcomes:
- Understanding the role and functions of media in democratic societies;
- Understanding the conditions under which media can fulfil their functions;
- Critically evaluate media content as active consumers;
- Engage with media for self-expression and democratic participation; and
- Review skills (including ICTs skills) needed to produce user-generated content.
Faced with the choice between privacy and safety on the Internet, between freely expressing themselves and to ethically use information, the media and technology – women, men and young boys and girls need new types of competencies.
Media and information literacy (MIL) offers these competencies. Education for all must therefore include media and information literacy for all.