Media education varies widely across Europe, not only in its name – the most common being media education, media literacy, moving image education or (in a more limited sense) film education – but also its definition and implementation.

The good news is that many of the EU’s member states already have substantial media education activity, and the field is still growing. Those activities are carried out not only within the formal context, but also the informal out-of-school context.

But there are also EU member states (both existing and accession states) and EU candidate countries which have no media literacy activities integrated into the curriculum. Any projects in those countries are mostly implemented on an informal level and driven by the motivation of a few individuals. The development and implementation of structures for media education varies widely across Europe. There seems to be a huge gap between those members who have been implementing media education for years, and those without any sustainable infrastructure for its integration and implementation in their schools. But we can say that all EU countries see the necessity of media education and are therefore keen to integrate it as an essential part of education in their schools.

When we compare the different EU member states (including the acceding states and the candidate countries) it is evident that the structures for implementation of media education in schools differ from one country to the next. Obviously, media literacy activities depend substantially on the priorities of the respective governments and the financial support that they allocate to it. It seems to me that (in addition to Scandinavian countries which are among the leaders and pioneers) the UK, the Netherlands, and some of the new member states such as Hungary provide good examples. In most of those countries, the national film and media institutes (which in most cases are also responsible for national film and media) have joined forces with government and industry to implement a more or less sustainable structure for guaranteeing and fostering media education in schools. These national film or media institutes offer teacher-training courses, provide study guides for teachers and learners, foster
school-cinema collaborations, produce classroom workshops, and develop innovative projects.

For example, in Finland the year 2004 was dedicated to film and media education, which has fostered the debate throughout the country. Many workshops, festivals and projects were supported financially by the Finnish Ministry of Education. All those activities contributed to new initiatives and developed new and sustainable structures for further development.

The best strategy for guaranteeing the sustainability and continuity of media education is to rely on a mix of funding and to combine interests from different backgrounds. In an ideal situation the relevant national government ministries, local and regional authorities, the media industries, European funding and motivated individuals (teachers, learners, experts, researchers and advisers) would be involved in the process. We should, however, be wary of the debate on media education and its implementation in schools being used to serve particular political or industrial purposes and interests.

There are many different approaches to the curricular location of media education. In most of the EU member states, media education is not a specific subject, but an integral part of other subjects such as fine arts, history, foreign languages, or mother tongue education: the “cross-curricular approach”. It is a discrete subject in only a few EU members such as Hungary.
Media education is undeniably a key skill and a core literacy, so ideally it should be approached in both a cross-curricular and a subject-specific way.

But we should remember that media education is not yet part of the curriculum in every EU member state, and that in too many states it does not feature at all on the national agenda.

The conference “Media Education in Europe”, which took place in Belfast in May 2004, helped to identify several key areas to be addressed in the near future:

1) Evaluation and Assessment:

It is evident that the evaluation and assessment of media literacy projects has been neglected in the past. In-depth analysis of projects is needed to inform future activities and make planning for policy easier. Researchers and experts from different disciplines need to develop effective methods and tools for evaluation and the assessment of media literacy projects.

2) Teacher Training:

Getting media education into the school curriculum is only the first step; all teachers need training if it is to be successfully implemented. In some EU countries, teachers are offered continuing professional development in the field, but attendance is mostly voluntary and very much depends on the motivation of the individual teacher.

Successful integration of media education into initial teacher training depends very much on the infrastructure, the context and the curriculum in each countries. In Hungary, where media education is a specific subject in the curriculum, initial teacher training is progressively implemented.

Teachers from different disciplines and sectors, and from different European countries should share knowledge and develop effective methods of teacher training in their respective countries.

3) Active Media Education – Practical Production Work:

Experts and professionals from different backgrounds agree that the importance of practical production work has been underestimated in the past. Cecilia von Feilitzen, Scientific Coordinator, The International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media, Nordicom, Göteborg University, is correct when she states that the creative and practical process of media production work will automatically lead to reflection and critical thinking:

“Instead, that media education stands a good chance of succeeding that sandwiches critical analysis and students’ own production, a production that at the same time emanates from the students’ own pleasure and motivation. If the students are allowed to make media over a long period (and not just occasionally), the production process in itself will lead to choice of relevant topics and formats, and to reflection and critique.”1 [Italics by the author]

Practical production is another area that varies widely between different member states. In the pioneering countries I have mentioned, the film and media institutes offer practical workshops for school classes and teacher training in this area. The technical infrastructure at schools or local media centres is mainly provided by government. But in other member states, practical production work is mainly carried out on an informal level and in an out-of-school environment. These activities are still over-dependent on the technical and financial infrastructure provided by each individual government, and on the motivation of a small number of individuals.

For a viable and sustainable pan-European approach

“Europe should become, by 2010, the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable growth with more and better jobs.” (European Council, Lisbon, March 2000)

Sustainable structures for media education or media literacy are lacking not only within some of the EU member states, but also on a European level. Current European Commission funding programmes are of limited relevance to media literacy development in schools. Pan-European projects from this area have to find their niche: the MEDIA Plus programme of the European Commission funds distribution, promotion, project development and professional training for the audiovisual industries, but is by definition not applicable to most school-focused media literacy projects. Other EU funding programmes such as Minerva and the different e-learning programmes are also only partly applicable. Many projects do not continue beyond an initial funding phase and so do not contribute to the development of a sustainable and effective European infrastructure that is badly needed.

Furthermore, it is not easy to access information on European activities and funding programmes. Experts from different disciplines agree that it would be helpful to have a European information office for media literacy – equivalent to the MEDIA Desks and Antennae – which could combine European activities, link up potential project partners, support project development, and provide information on funding opportunities.

It is certainly not up to the European Commission to define a European curriculum for media education, as education is the responsibility of each state. Nevertheless it would be welcomed if the Commission could join forces with experts in the field to establish minimum standards for media literacy on a European level. The UNESCO Convention on the Rights of the Child that came into force on 2 September 1990 could serve as a point of reference in that aspect:

Article 13:
1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.

Once a common minimum standard is established it should be the responsibility of each EU states to work with industry, associations, ministries, local and regional authorities, schools, teachers, learners, and other interested parties to implement those at a national level.
The development of digital media can help in the implementation of European standards for media literacy in schools. Media technologies are increasing in quality and becoming more accessible and cheaper. But there is a danger of the debate on media literacy becoming focused purely on technological matters. Limiting the discussion to the technological nature of digital media would only serve the interests of the media industries.

There is still a long way to go. The debate on media literacy in European schools and its cultural values must continue in parallel with lobbying and research.

Ruth Lemmen ( info@ruth-lemmen.deThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ) is an independent media education consultant in based in Berlin.
© 2005 Ruth Lemmen

1 “Promoting the Viewers’ Rights” by Cecilia von Feilitzen, Scientific Coordinator, The International Clearinghouse on Children, Youth and Media, Nordicom, Göteborg University, Sweden; presented at ’Advancing the European Viewers Interests’, Lucca, Italy, 22-23 October 2004, Session III: Media Literacy and Education in Europe

Media Education in European Schools