Learning literacy: How to be Informed in the Age of Fake News

When Oleksandra Rozumiyenko, a teacher at Chernihiv’s School #30 in northeast Ukraine, teaches history to her students, she thinks of the ways to bring media literacy components in her classroom. She tells her students to identify whether there is an agenda behind a story and to think about the goals of the media outlet that produced the story.

Rozumiyenko attended a number of training courses run by the Academy of Ukrainian Press (AUP), funded through USAID’s U-Media project implemented by Internews. During those courses, more than 270 teachers worked on how to help students discern between false and credible sources of information.

In the age of “fake news,” Russian information warfare and heightened forms of propaganda online, there is a larger and faster spread of disinformation than ever before. For this reason, teachers told us, media literacy has received an unexpected boost in Ukraine.

“In my view, for a generation of digital natives, understanding what is real still proves challenging,” Oleksandra says. “There is a vaccine – to fake news. That vaccine actually is news literacy education.” 

Her 11th-grade students share their teacher’s passion for media education. This is because it helps them grow as critical news consumers, and they now clearly see how the media can manipulate and misinform and how to detect when it happens.

“We’ve been learning media literacy since the 11th grade. It’s very important in our times. Because we have internet, social media networks, news and information that we need to critically assess. Because not all information we consume is true. They spread information with an evil intent. That’s why we need to know how to filter it,” said Daniyil Krokha, a student from the school.

Students sit at white desks in a classroom, bookshelves are in the background
Students at Chernihiv’s School #30 are passionate about media education.

Education is key

“The essence of media literacy is understanding that everything we consume — articles, videos, tweets, memes, advertisements, podcasts and blogs — is trying to sell us an idea. These ideas are what we use to build our worldview, so we want them to be as true as possible,”

Viktoriya Stashevska, a teacher at Chernihiv’s Collegium #11, tells her students as she is leading a discussion about how imagery and editing in documentary film can be used to send messages without using words.

She also attended Internews-funded media education courses and now she includes media literacy in her arts classes.

Two young women and a young man sit next to each other; an older woman sits behind them
Viktoriya Stashevska (left), a teacher at Chernihiv’s Collegium #11, attended Internews-funded media education courses and now she includes media literacy in her arts classes.

While Ukrainians need — and want — accurate news to make informed decisions, the internet is full of material that intentionally blurs the lines between news, propaganda, research and advertising. And, “with well targeted media literacy activities, young people are becoming better-prepared to recognize it,” Stashevska says.

Fortunately, Ukrainians are improving in their ability to spot paid media content (known as jeansa), according to the 2017 Media Consumption Survey, a USAID-Internews poll. The poll revealed that out of the 55% of people who know jeansa exists, 63% say they know how to spot a “paid news” report, an increase of 16% from the previous year.

Another poll, conducted by Detector Media, an Internews’ core partner, revealed 61% of Ukrainians believe that media literacy matters to all and needs to be improved. But, at the same time, only 22% of respondents say they are ready to learn how to be media literate. 

Over the past 3 years,
the Academy of Ukrainian Press
media education activities reached:

teacher icon 177 school teachers
university icon 96 university lecturers
school icon 500 schools across Ukraine
knowledge sharing icon 700 participants in knowledge-sharing events
public lecture icon 600 public lectures on media literacy

For the past eight years, USAID programs implemented by Internews have been promoting media education and literacy for Ukrainian educators, journalists, civil society and political activists and public officials. As a result, Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Sciences recognizes the success of the joint activities in coordination with partners like AUP, which focused on educating teachers and schoolchildren and finding space for media literacy in a crowded curriculum. The Ministry has recommended using AUP’s teacher training manuals and textbooks in schools and higher education institutions.

The Ministry recognizes that media education will help young people learn how to spot fake news, authenticate sources, identify emotionally charged manipulation and understand bias. In 2017 the Ministry launched an all-Ukrainian media-education experiment for 2017-22, which aims to introduce “intertwined mass media literacy into the national educational practice.”

Over the coming years, Ukrainians will be challenged to find the best way forward. We at Internews believe that in many ways Ukraine is at the forefront of tackling disinformation and that its experience can provide lessons for other parts of the world to learn.

The AUP’s progress in rolling out media literacy and gaining the Ministry of Education’s support is based not only on the major political challenges faced by the country, but on the passion of Ukraine’s teaching community to update education in ways that are urgently needed, and by students and parents who have welcomed this type of education as critical in these times.

There is still some way to go before all students get the same chances to learn about media literacy as the ones in these schools, However, the momentum gained since the reform process began is a positive indication of the future of media literacy education for Ukraine.