By W. Gichunge:
As the world marked the International Literacy Day on September 8th, the expression that every educator –regardless of the subject area-is a teacher of reading comes to mind. After the ability to read and write (and numeracy) the traditional definition of literacy has since been expanded to include visual and information literacies, media literacy, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills, creativity, initiative, and self-direction. According to UNESCO, Media and information literacy is a critical 21st-century life skill to enable young people to understand the functions of media and other information providers and seek, evaluate, use and create information to achieve their personal, social, occupational, and educational goals. They must also possess basic skills for critical thinking, to analyze and use them for self-expression, for becoming independent learners, producers, informed citizens, professionals, and for participating in the governance and democratic processes of their societies.
With the explosion of technology, the blitz of video gaming, social networking, and texting is daily bombarding students with information of all types, and in multiple ways and settings. Research has shown that today’s students are less interested in reading textbooks and course material, and more interested in gathering information in a fast-paced, action-packed manner as they access all they need to know on phones, hand-held gadgets, tablets, or laptops posing a great challenge to the teacher who is expected to not only keep his young and adolescent not only interested in learning but is also held accountable for the student’s success.
In view of the above, the time to bring media and information literacy into the mainstream of the education system is now. The rolling out of the new curriculum is a watershed moment for Kenya to fully and proactively incorporate MIL in all its forms. Incorporating literacy skills into every lesson will have an impact on student engagement, retention, and lifelong learning. Media literacy scholar Renee Hobbs opines that full participation in contemporary culture requires not just consuming messages, but also creating and sharing them; and to fulfill the promise of digital citizenship, citizens must acquire multimedia communication skills that include the ability to compose messages using language, graphic design, images and sound, and know how to use these skills to engage in the civic life of their communities.
The digital and media literacy competencies envisaged in the new curriculum are of enormous practical value since they constitute core competencies of citizenship in the digital age. People need digital skills to look for, access, store and create relevant information in order to apply for jobs, scholarships, etc. In Kenya, most government taxes have been automated including filing tax returns, applying for government documents like driving licenses, passports, and birth certificates. These competencies are necessary to become expert learners and lend credence to the growing momentum to support the integration of digital and media literacy into education.
In Kenya, a number of initiatives have begun in earnest to entrench the implementation of media and information literacy implementation by government and civil society actors. One of the major initiatives in this regard is the customization of the UNESCO MIL Curriculum for Teachers Guidelines to local needs and standards for adaptation and possible mainstreaming in teacher training and continuous development programs.
The main target group for the MIL curriculum is teachers, including at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels who are either in-training or in-service. The MIL curriculum is a tool specifically designed for teacher training institutions such as colleges and universities. The UNESCO MIL curriculum can also be adapted and used by other departments or institutes within a college or university for which MIL is a relevant field. The curriculum is also relevant to NGOs, government institutions and ministries, and other social organizations that offer various types of training and capacity building to citizens.
Once formally implemented it is expected that the MIL curriculum will boost the teaching and learning process by equipping teachers with enhanced knowledge to empower future citizens. Finally, MIL will help to enhance education outcomes by equipping learners with the necessary competencies to participate fully in political, economic, and social life.
*The writer is a media and information literacy expert