Upon arriving in Doha, Magda Abu-Fadil’s mission seemed anything but simple. She had to explore the subject of media literacy with teachers from different backgrounds in a timeframe of five hours.
Around 60 teachers took part in the training workshops, and some of them had never even heard of Media Literacy.
Media Literacy is an initiative from the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations (UNAOC) that aims to create awareness among the youth regarding media and its representation of different cultures and religions. Media Literacy also allows children to develop their critical thinking and expression skills.
To complete this training, a curriculum for teachers devised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) was handed over. The handbook served as a starting point during the training and details the methodology to use for teaching media literacy at school.
At the same time Magda Abu-Fadil outlined her own methodology using videos, pictures and podcasts. Her goal was to shake teachers into realising the importance of Media Literacy. “Teachers should be less rigid and be aware of the use of new media, children have surpassed us on new technology” she tells me between two sessions. At the same time she admits that in five hours the task is difficult: “A morning is not enough to understand media, they need at least a week to be able to teach Media Literacy.”
As an experienced trainer, Magda organised her workshop in several parts. First, she gave a presentation on media, on how to read information, on the use of new technology, on the importance of incorporating history and geography into a curriculum and on freedom of speech in school. Throughout the presentation, one motto was repeated constantly: “You should speak your students’ language!”
For Majda, this is the key when teaching media literacy: “I try to tell the teachers, you have to change, to be flexible, speak your students’ language, don’t be rigid, it doesn’t work anymore.”
According to her, changing mentalities occur through the relationship that the student and his teacher will build at school. She argued: “There is no critical mind in our society; media literacy must make them react. In the Arab world, children don’t ask questions, they are not curious because of the society and the traditions.”
It’s one of the goals of Media Literacy to teach children how to express themselves, to think, to analyse and to push them to question every issue.
Media Literacy as a vehicle for democracy and freedom of speech
In the introduction of the UNESCO’s handbook Media and Information Literacy: curriculum for teachers handed over during the workshop, article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on freedom of expression appears in the first paragraph.
Below it is mentioned that media literacy “equips citizens with competencies needed to seek and enjoy the full benefits of this fundamental human right.” In other words it means that media literacy should equip the young generation with a critical mind and should give them tools to analyse information and to speak spontaneously.
“Implementing media literacy should change mentalities” says Magda, adding that “understanding media, knowing how to decrypt the language of information and picking out information that flows from everywhere will allow young generations to change their environment.”
She argues that freedom of expression should be taught in all schools, and that children must feel free to ask questions and to discuss everything with their teachers.
Media Literacy as a vehicle for an opening up the world
Media Literacy also pushes to look for information and not to wait for it, reminded the trainer. At the same time she admitted that looking for all kind of information in Arabic could be difficult, as search engines are more accessible in English or in Latin languages. She also highlighted the lack of Arabic support.
But for Magda, these realities shouldn’t be a barrier, and she suggested the use of websites such as yamli.com where you can search using Arabic more easily.
Arabic should be considered an advantage she argued.
Media Literacy as a bridge between teacher and student
Magda also tackled the issue of sharing knowledge with students, especially on digital media, noting that teachers have not generally mastered Ipads, posdcasts or even Twitter.
“Put yourself at you student level and speak their language in order to create a privileged relationship with them,” she urged participants. The time of traditional instruction when the teacher has to be an authoritarian scholar is over. Nowadays the teacher should listen and become a confidence with his students, she argued.
The relationship that the teacher establishes with their class will be essential when it comes to teaching Media Literacy, as it will determine the interest of the children in this new concept.
Feedback on the training workshops was extremely enthusiastic. Nihal Azmi, an Arabic assistant at Al Falah Independent School, said that she thought the training had helped to broaden her horizons. “We were limited. From now I will give more freedom to my students, they will be able to research on their own and interview the school principal, I won’t prevent them from questioning,” she said.
Ahmed Douidan is also an Arabic assistant at Al Maha Academy, and according to him, teaching Media Literacy will allow him to create links with his students. “This workshop gave us the tools on how to deal with our students, the basis of communication. It taught us to open ourselves on the world and on other cultures,” he said.
The workshop was organised by DCMF in partnership with Media Unlimited and took place from October 16-18 in Doha.