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Tips for Teaching Media Literacy in Africa

As a former news anchor, reporter and editor, Prossy Kawala knows that mass media can be an effective tool for informing and reaching communities. “Media in Africa isn’t just about access to information; it’s also about understanding the information that is provided,” says Kawala. “Often times when an organization or agency send out a message to a community, the people they want to reach don’t get the right message because they don’t have the skills to receive the message that is sent out.”

Kawala, a Community Solutions Program (CSP) alumna and the founder and chairperson of the fledgling Center for Media Literacy and Community Development (CEMCOD) in Uganda, trains community members, particularly youth, in media literacy, using real life examples to help them dissect and understand the media messages they are receiving, as well as teaching them how the media can become a tool to give their own community a voice.

One of CMLCD’s main projects focuses on in-school media literacy training for students ages 6-18, because, as Kawala put it “if a new generation understands what the media is and how they can use it, they will be better able to use it for their own development.” For the past year, CMLCD has been working with Kisuule Primary School and Bukoto High School, teaching media literacy in the classroom with real examples from Ugandan television, magazines, internet resources and radio. This experience has led Kawala to develop her top five tips for teaching media literacy education in Ugandan classrooms.

Integrate media literacy into school culture and curriculums. Kawala says that this is especially important as at the primary level. “If at seven-years-old they are able to questions the legitimacy of a message, and interpret it in a way, then they will be better prepared to face their future.”

Create a standard curriculum in the schools for media literacy. There are many organizations teaching bout the media in classroom, and each has their own approach. “If everyone can all follow the same path, then we can be sure children are learning not only how to interpret the messages they are getting, but also how to create new media the reflects their reality.”

Teachers should take the lead. Without the support of teachers who also understand media influences on their students and their communities, young people will not learn about the power of media. Kawala adds “teachers will also be the ones who push to add media literacy to the curriculum.”

Get the parents involved. Parents need to be more aware about media influences in their homes. When CMLCD was conducting their baseline study for their media literacy project, parents were reluctant to get involved and monitor their children’s media consumption, which is something Kawala hopes to change. “If parents better understand how media impacts their children’s lives, they would be more willing to step up to the challenge.”

Engage the media makers themselves. Helping content providers in television, radio, and print understand the impacts of their messages is crucial to changing the way media is viewed and understood. “If media makers aren’t mindful about what they are putting forward, because they are just concerned with selling their project or idea, then they are crowding the media space with messages that can be difficult for the public to understand.”

Prossy Kawala spent four months in the fall of 2012 in the Albuquerque, New Mexico working with the Media Literacy Project as a part of the Community Solutions Program. The Community Solutions Program (CSP) is funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and implemented by IREX.