The “Media literacy for refugee youth” international project started in 2017 and its aim was to understand how unaccompanied minor refugees use digital technologies and social media. For this, the principal investigator of the project, Dr Annamária Neag, with the support of her mentor, Dr Richard Berger, carried out field work in Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK. A total of 56 unaccompanied refugee kids were interviewed, and some of them also took part in a digital ethnography phase. Moreover, in London, a group of young people joined the participatory action research phase of the research.
Although the first aim was to understand how these young people use smart phones and social media, the final goal was to create media education materials that can aid their integration into a new society. For understanding the young people’s media lives, Dr Neag also interviewed mentors, guardians and educators who helped her in how to shape these educational materials.
Based on the research findings, the team decided that the best course of action was to create an app that could aid the work of mentors and social workers who look after unaccompanied refugee children. With the help of Kyle Goslan, from Bournemouth University, this app is now freely available for iPhones from the AppStore. Those interested in the app should only do a quick search for Mentor + Media on the AppStore and install it from there.
The last leg of the field work for the Media literacy for unaccompanied refugee youth project was undertaken in Milan, Italy, following the latest statistics report which highlighted that over 18,000 unaccompanied asylum-seekers were present in accommodation centers across the country. ‘Non c’è casa senza familia’, or ‘a house is not a home without family’, as the Italians would say; and in a country where food, family and music are deeply ingrained in their culture, it wasn’t clear how unaccompanied refugee children would cope there. With Italy’s proposed new government moving to cut off the flow of migrants from Africa, the question about whether unaccompanied minors will find a home in Italy without their families is still a difficult one.
In Milan, Marie Curie Fellow Dr Annamaria Neag met with refugee organisations and volunteers, including CivicoZero, a project of Save the Children Italy. CivicoZero offers a centre where young unaccompanied asylum-seekers can learn the language, attend IT classes, play sports together and, above all, have a safe place to spend time with their peers. The young people in the centre came from a range of countries such as Albania, Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria, and although they spoke different languages and came from vastly different cultures, their love for football was one thing they had in common with Italians (and the Score Match app!).
Dr Neag also visited the Penny Wirton School which is a free Italian language school for new migrants, entirely managed by volunteers. This makes the school a meeting point between immigrants and locals, creating a common ground for integration that works beyond linguistic, social and cultural differences. These kinds of schools have opened up across Italy, offering a possibility for those new to the country to practice learning the language with a local (one-to-one tuition), learn about the customs and get to know the culture. Most of
the volunteers at the Penny Wirton School are seniors who return to a local parish to meet the young asylum-seekers every week.
“It was really impressive to see these seniors give a helping hand where it is most needed”, says Dr Neag. “In an ageing Europe, this initiative could be a good example for many other seniors who may be interested in offering their skills and time.”
Despite the political rhetoric, it seems that there are many people who are willing to offer some kind of support to those in need as the number of ‘volunteer guardians’ is on the rise, even though it means contributing on a voluntary and free basis. This support is very much needed since the refugee children showed very different levels of knowledge and understanding of concepts such as the use of technology and social media. From children who are experienced online gamers to children who have never owned a mobile phone, it seems that unaccompanied young refugees need very specific educational interventions.
The next step in the ‘Media literacy for unaccompanied refugee youth’ project will be to create these interventions with the help of refugee children themselves.
I am very thankful to Laura from the Penny Wirton School and to Valentina and her team at CivicoZero Milan. – Dr Annamaria Neag, Project Researcher.
The untimely death from cancer of former UK Labour cabinet minister, Dame Tessa Jowell, has triggered a wave of tributes from across the political spectrum. Her vision for securing the 2012 Olympics for London, her formative role in New Labour’s flagship Sure Start scheme, and most recently, her campaign for cancer research, have all been given many column inches.
Media literacy existed as a New Labour policy well before Jowell’s turn at the Department for Culture Media and Sport (DCMS). Her predecessor, Chris Smith, believed that the concept was a useful one for “arming the citizen-consumer” of media, to make responsible choices in a period of increasing deregulation.
To the dismay of some of her own policy advisors, Jowell seized the concept, made it her own, and became a fervent advocate at every opportunity. In an address given at BAFTA the year following the Communications Act, she referred to media literacy as “a coming subject” and one that “in five years’ time will be just another given”.
With the benefit of hindsight, Jowell’s optimism seems to have been misplaced. Media literacy, arguably, has never been lower on the political agenda. The plethora of initiatives that sprang up in the wake of the Communications Act have largely withered on the vine – and the process of recent reforms to the popular Media Studies A-level have seen the subject savagely “strangled”.
Yet Jowell’s argument for media education has never been more relevant. “It is important,” she insisted, “that we know when we are watching ‘accurate and impartial’ news coverage and when we are not”. These are prescient comments when you consider that they were made more than a decade before “post-truth” became the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year (in 2016) and when terms such as “fake news” or “Leveson Inquiry” had yet to pass anyone’s lips.
Jowell believed that education in media opened opportunities that could enrich the experience of individuals and society – but she was equally exercised about the role that education had to play in protecting against some of the dangers of modern media. She thought that media were dominated by powerful and potentially harmful commercial and political interests. She believed that children, in particular, should be provided with “critical life skills” to guide their media consumption.
“It is transparently important,” she told a media literacy seminar in 2004, “that they should be helped to get the most from all those screen hours, and be protected from what we know are some of the worst excesses”. She went on to ensure that, from 2006, the BBC Charter also contained requirements to promote media literacy.
Where did it go so wrong?
The key to understanding the marginalisation of media literacy as government policy is the role of the Department for Education – once known as the Department for Education and Skills(DfES). Media education was not seen as a serious curriculum priority at the DfES, and – despite New Labour’s early insistence on “joined-up government” – enthusiasm for media literacy never spread beyond the confines of DCMS.
There was widespread ignorance about media education among civil servants within DfES, many of whom had had highly traditional educational experiences themselves. A preoccupation with “driving up” standards, measurability and international comparison provided little incentive for the promotion of a field of study concerned with recognising and understanding forms of popular (or “low”) culture. This was despite the apparent economic value being attributed to the “creative industries” at the same time.
The byzantine operation of the DfES also made change of any kind difficult – particularly where it touched on what was actually taught in schools. In this case, there was the added disincentive of a policy being driven by a separate –and junior – department. Ultimately, media literacy was never to be widely embraced as an educational project in the way that Jowell had hoped.
Media literacy remains on the statute book and Ofcom continues to have a responsibility to promote it. But the way it is defined – and the level of resources provided to support it – ensure that it has largely been reduced to a form of market research, an undead policy. Jowell once proclaimed:
I believe that in the modern world, media literacy will become as important a skill as maths or science. Decoding our media will become as important to our lives as citizens as understanding literature is to our cultural lives.
It may be too much to hope that media literacy could yet be reclaimed as one of Tessa Jowell’s essential legacies.
Our BU briefing papers are designed to make our research outputs accessible and easily digestible so that our research findings can quickly be applied – whether to society, culture, public policy, services, the environment or to improve quality of life. They have been created to highlight research findings and their potential impact within their field.
The Communications Act 2003 requires the UK’s media regulator Ofcom to promote ‘media literacy’, although it left the term undefined. In response to the new legislation, the regulator espoused a deliberately generalised definition, but one that never became a meaningful measure of its own policy work.
This paper investigates how Ofcom managed this regulatory duty from 2003 onwards. It explores how the promotion of media literacy was progressively reduced in scope over time as its funding was incrementally withdrawn. Media literacy in 2016 may be characterised as one of the zombies of cultural policy: an instrument devoid of its original life but continuing in a limited state of animation governed by other policy priorities.