Media Literacy and Australian schooling

Many of Australia’s national discussions about education in the last 10+ years have centred on three main documents/tests:

  • The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians
  • The Australian Curriculum (F-10)
  • National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN)

How do these documents/tests link to Media Literacy?

One of the two overarching goals of the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians is that:

“All young Australians become successful learners, confident and creative individuals, and active and informed citizens.”

The language of the Declaration has been criticised for being abstract rather than definitive and the economic aims of education have been prioritised over student well-being, environmental sustainability and democratic participation.  A review of the Melbourne Declaration is currently under way, not because the goals are no longer relevant, but rather because of the increasing shift in the way that education success is measured, becoming more closely associated with so-called ‘soft skills’ – creativity, critical problem solving, collaborative approaches and other interpersonal (people) skills.  As an example, the proportion of job advertisements requiring ‘critical thinking’ rose by 158% between 2012 and 2015.  As I discussed in a previous post, critical thinking is integral to media literacy and is emphasised in The Foundation for Young Australians’ 2013 report below.

Original work licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 AU)

The Melbourne Declaration formed the basis of the Australian Curriculum.  Within the Curriculum, media literacy is covered through the general capabilities of ICT, literacy and critical and creative thinking. This is a seemingly positive step in the media literacy education direction, whereby students are supported to develop the knowledge, skills and critical thinking capability to use, interpret and evaluate information.  The reality is that the Curriculum generally offers ‘invitations’ to engage in the critical dimension of (media) literacy but opportunities for engagement with questions about perspectives, participation and power are not sufficiently explicit.  In practice, adoption varies depending on schools, classrooms, teachers and local contexts.  It might seem that a stand-alone subject which focuses on media literacy would resolve this issue and comprehensively develop media literacy competencies in students. The reality is that literacy practices in one discipline/subject are often very different to other disciplines/subjects and students have a greater ability to engage with critical literacy practices when the discussion is linked with domain or subject-based topic knowledge.

Recommendation three of the 2018 Report of the Australian Government Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism suggested work was needed to address how the Australian Curriculum could be improved in terms of digital media awareness and media literacy, but this recommendation will not be evaluated until the review of the Australian Curriculum in 2020.

The Australian Curriculum is not implemented consistently by each state education authority and concludes at Year 10 offering limited nationwide discussions of media literacy at the senior schooling level.  The challenge of incorporating digital media literacy at any level of education in any jurisdiction is that the development of digital media literacy is likely to be the product of an environment, thus dependent on individual teacher interest and skill, as much as a specifically targeted curriculum.

Lastly, conversations about measuring literacy in Australian schools since 2008 have often focused on evaluation of NAPLAN.  There have been calls for the New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland breakaway review of NAPLAN, announced in September this year, to explore how the test could generate deep learning in areas like creativity, critical reflection and interpersonal skills in order to prepare young people for the future of the workforce.

Although the state of media literacy in Australia remains fragmented and could best be described as ‘under review’, conversations about the relationship between technology, literacy and education are widening. There is hope for improved access and understanding about media literacy in the future.  Although some of Australia’s current educational policies, school curriculum and nation-wide testing regimes are challenged for not sufficiently building transferable skills in students, it seems that there is potential for positive changes.  The social and political impacts of misinformation in online media are not going away.  Education for all information consumers, especially in schools is essential.

2 Replies to “Media Literacy and Australian schooling”

  1. Hi Leanne. Thank you for your post and for providing so many links to informative articles and sites.

    I was not aware that the Melbourne Declaration 2008 was going to be reviewed. Makes sense after ten years though doesn’t it? Like you mentioned in your post, the goals of the Melbourne Dec are still relevant in the current educational landscape. It was interesting reading Firth’s comments and point of view about the implementation of the Melbourne Dec 2008 via the Australian Curriculum : “two things become apparent: that they (goals) are as relevant now as they were then, and that we still have a long way to go in achieving them.” With the Australian Curriculum set for review in 2020, it appears more change is on the horizon for us as educators.

    Media literacy needs more recognition in ACARA and I agree that a stand alone subject may be an effective solution. Great idea! I know I teach media literacy in Music classes but also in English in some units of work. More recently it has become a big focus and part of the pastoral programs I plan and lead at my school. Our lessons support student wellbeing and development by deconstructing media and at the same time, teaches students critical thinking techniques. I think this has become increasingly important with student engagement, interest and participation in social media platforms such as Instagram.

    As a Music specialist teacher, I always cringe a little when I read or hear creativity, critical problem solving, collaborative approaches and other interpersonal (people) skills described as ‘soft skills’ in education. Many often comment that the Arts are not as rigorous as STEM subjects and that it is not worthwhile for students to study a subject like Music. ‘Why study Music? What will that do for their future? Are they going to be a rock star?’ If presentation skills and creativity are increasing in demand perhaps critical thinking is needed as to how the culture of our schools can be transformed to promote and encourage students to engage in creative subjects in the Arts.

  2. Hi Jacinta. Thanks for your feedback. I absolutely agree with you about the value of the Arts and there have been numerous studies done on the significance of the Arts for building collaborative, cognitive and creative thinking skills. Although these skills are typically referred to as ‘soft skills’, they are increasingly being valued in measures of educational success. Deconstructing various media is also a key component of the Arts and complements media literacy well. It seems like you are well-placed to engage with a whole range of skills and prepare students to innovate, create and think critically now and in the future.

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