Informing the Future: Youth in Belarus Educate Peers on Media Literacy and Digital Skills
By Iryna Roubel
Media literacy is a critical skill for the 21st century. Many citizens in Belarus believe their media outlets without questioning accuracy and fact-checking. In Belarus, a large amount of the population accepts propaganda and does not think critically about the information they receive. A survey by the Independent Institute of Social, Economic, and Political Studies (IISEPS) indicates that more than half of Belarusians trust state media, while only 39 percent trust independent news and media outlets. As a result, training youth how to think critically and question the articles they read is a challenge. The root of this problem begins in the classroom, media literacy is not infused into the curriculum in Belarus, and parents are not able to oversee every news source their children view to determine its credibility and accuracy. Consequently, teenagers in Belarus face a world of media without having any foundational knowledge. This information gap often leads to misjudgment and misunderstanding, which could have a long-term effect on their future decisions.
To address this important issue, a project entitled, “Media Literacy for Me,” was created in Belarus by a team of international exchange alumni. The project was inspired by an Alumni TIES seminar that took place in October 2018, entitled “Alumni Educators in Action: Media Literacy and Critical Thinking in the Digital Age” and funded through an Alumni TIES small grant award from the U.S. Department of State.
After the selection process and the introductory training “Media Literacy for Me. Start,” the students participated in an online course, entitled “Media Literacy for Me.” When the online course concluded, students carefully developed and implemented classes focused on media literacy and basic digital skills for their peers and local community members. These courses were held at local schools in April and May and covered a wide array of topics such as digital citizenship, critical digital skills for a 21st-century career, debunking fake news, E.S.C.A.P.E. strategy, online behavior, a person’s image on social networks, media advertising, and much more.
During the project, students participated in several visits that enhanced their interest in media literacy. The students attended an educational session on digital citizenship, and an online content verification session at the Information Resource Center, U.S. Embassy in Belarus, where they learned how to fact-check and ways of defining and identifying falsification and manipulation in digital content. They also visited the most influential media company in Belarus, the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company, where the students had the opportunity to visit the studio learn about some of the most popular Belarusian television shows. It was there that they learned more about television production and broadcasting. To heighten their engagement, the students participated in an excursion to the Belarusian Radio and Television Museum, where they traced the history of the very first radio station in Belarus to today’s modern television channels.
The final project training took place at Priluki school in June. The sessions were filled with practical activities that helped to synthesize the project learning outcomes for students. During the training, the team and project participants discussed and planned strategies for the project’s sustainable development. These adolescent youth analyzed fake photos, identified famous people by analyzing their social media accounts, revised the E.S.C.A.P.E. strategy, evaluated news articles, and were able to test their knowledge with the help of a quiz. Students also participated in reflective journaling; each student created a journal where they could express their thoughts and feelings about their experience
After reflecting on their project, the teenagers shared how the experience positively influenced their media literacy skills. Most notably, the students admitted that they lacked knowledge about media literacy prior to the project. Among the other benefits of “Media Literacy for Me,” the students stated that the highlights of this learning experience were working with thoughtful people, acquiring new knowledge, practicing unconventional ways of learning, and developing new English language skills.
“Media Literacy for Me” concluded in June and the project team expects that students will continue sharing their knowledge and promotion of media literacy. They have begun discussing and planning additional educational sessions for their peers and community members for the next academic year. The project team looks forward to supporting them in these endeavors with the intention that more individuals in Belarus will become sensible media consumers.
Media Literacy for Me is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.