Written by Maria Manuela Novais Santos, Universidade Aberta (Open University), Portugal
Even though the great concern as to the influence of media on children and young people became more evident in the 80’s, the need for a pedagogical approach of media was felt much earlier in several countries in Europe, Canada and Australia.
Claude Julien, a journalist and former director of “Le Monde Diplomatique”, mentions Jean Macé’s efforts – as early as 1866 – to raise children’s awareness regarding the media. A teacher and journalist, he founded a newspaper for children, “Le Magasin d’Education et Récreation”, and organised meetings with the children in order to analyse the television of that epoch, the magic lantern – “to awaken them, to make them think, to open their eyes and not to tell them what to think”.[i]
Media Education development has been quite uneven, with a great diversity in goals, strategies, resources, contexts, and in educators’ profiles
Every time a new medium appears there is a great concern about the way it will influence people, particularly children and adolescents.
Therefore, the object of Media Education has focused on newspapers, magazines, films and, above all, TV. As the most popular medium, involving large audiences and thus having an enormous power and influence, TV has become the principal object of study and analysis along the last decades. But now, in the Information Society, in the « Third Media Age », as some call it, when children spend more time using the computer than in front of the TV set, the focus can no longer be limited to print and audiovisual media, but it must include the new digital media.
Major events on Media Education, some of them sponsored by UNESCO, reflect the evolution it has been undergoing during the last years.
In 1982, the German National Commission for UNESCO organised an international symposium in Grünwald entitled “Education of the Public in the Use of Mass Media: Problems, Trends and Prospects”. Its main focus was thus on the mass media. The Grünwald Declaration stated that, in those days, an increasing number of people spent a great deal of time watching TV, reading newspapers and magazines, playing records and listening to the radio. Children already spent more time watching TV than they did attending school. Therefore, the need to encourage the growth of critical awareness as to the mass media messages was strongly felt, and the recommendations included in the Declaration reflect that concern.[ii]
In 1990, the International Colloquy on « New Directions in Media Education », held in Toulouse, France, reviwed the Media Education practices in different countries and analysed the factors leading to success, which was a basis for the recommendations as to the new orientations.
In 1999, the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs and the Austrian National Commission for UNESCO co-ordinated an international conference on “Educating for the Media and the Digital Age”. The new environment brought about by the emergence of the Information Society, with an increased output of new communication technology and the presence of digital media as sources of information, has given rise to new challenges for Media Education, which has thus to be re-defined. Media Education no longer focuses exclusively on the traditional media, but it “deals with all communication media and includes the printed word and graphics, the sound, the still as well as the moving image, delivered on any kind of technology”. It “enables people to gain understanding of the communication media used in their society and the way they operate, and to acquire skills in using these media to communicate with others”. The recommendations addressed to UNESCO following the Conference included the creation of an International Clearing House for Media Education “that should collaborate with functioning national and international networks and organisations dealing with Media Education.[…] It should share strategies, disseminate Media Education materials, promote and stress awareness of Media Education”.[iii] It should also be a permanent observatory for its development.
Following the recommendations issued in the Vienna Conference, the Executive Board and the General Conference of UNESCO approved to integrate activities of Media Education into its programmes of 2000 and 2001.
A study about the new definition of Media Education, its implications for Education in general and its state of the art worldwide was produced by ICEM – the International Council for Educational Media. That report, under the title “Media Education in the Digital Age – New Trends and Orientations”, was presented to UNESCO Information, Communication and Education Sectors in July 2000.
Last April, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, “aware of the specific