|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1983 (Issue 46) - Media Education (UNESCO, 1983, 144 p.)|
The texts that make up this issue could be grouped around three major themes with varying emphasis, frame of reference in the development of educational problems and a random series of questions and answers according to their origin in developed or developing countries. A paradoxical situation then arises: innovations which may be considered outdated or controversial in the former are of current relevance in the latter.
The first theme represents one pole of thought. In it, Oliveira Lima (Brazil) unequivocally condemns the present archaic school system, with its futile curriculum and its repressive and incompetent teaching staff. Ohliger (United States) denounces the unquestioned and insidious over-education he considers to be implied by the notion and above all, by the practice of lifelong education.
At the other extreme and as a second theme, Abeje (Ethiopia) and Qamar (Pakistan) propose distinctively inventive and empirical alternatives to two familiar educational problems in the Third World. Since the educational system is not materially able to include all children and even less capable of providing for adults, what possible solution can be found? How can the greatest number be provided with the opportunity to learn in spite of insurmountable material limitations? Paradoxically, and practically in contradiction, certain systems produce more graduates than the economic system can integrate. What can be done for children and adolescents leaving school with or without diplomas?
Alongside controversy and experience, this issues third theme or problem unfolds: the omnipresence of the mass-media and schools necessary confrontation of their role, either willingly or otherwise.
Going back over this itinerary, we might set out some of its landmarks.
The first section of Prospects has rarely been so aptly titled. In terms of substance and tone, Oliveira Limas and Ohligers contributions oscillate constantly between personal commitment and controversy.
In nearly a hundred publications and over a period of some fifty years, Oliveira Lima has fought against a two-thousand-year-old school system incapable of change and characterized by a pupil/teacher relationship which prolongs dependence. In his view, all the school curriculum offers are certain skills that are not generally prevalent in society, because they are not of vital importance for the survival of the individual and/or the tribe as a whole, so that the system is only conceived to convey a useless body of knowledge in a mechanical fashion.
This archaic school is only capable of repressing the lively and creative qualities in a child in order to domesticate and form young people to a notoriously outdated mould. Not satisfied with maintaining the pupil - and later the student - in a state of total dependence, the schools teaching function becomes tyrannical, using arms such as grading, evaluation and examination. Oliveira Lima emphasizes that failure is always attributed to pupils: An enormous amount of literature has been published about children who fail in school but not a word has been said in the specialist literature about subnormal incompetent teachers.
The author speaks from experience. He was a high-level civil servant in his countrys ministry of education as well as a federal inspector of education. He considers that the only alternative is a school entirely based on the theories of Piaget, an ideal he was unable to share earlier in his career, but which he is currently implementing as an independent innovator in his centre in Rio de Janeiro.
Ohliger is battling on another front and attempts to reconcile education and liberty.
Behind the orchestrated institutional incitement constantly to acquire further education, he sees a fundamentally manipulatory capitalistic movement creating a desire for scientific knowledge which, in turn, is transformed into a pseudo-need. It is then a simple step to convince an adult that he will be returning to a semi-literate state and even may become a politically inferior citizen if he does not remedy his new ignorance. Ohliger breaks down the argument, which, in the name of modernization and professionalism, makes an adult feel guilty and sends him off after frequently arbitrary knowledge: the literates in power will always be able to develop constantly escalating literacy requirements, which in turn will distinguish degrees of reward, and make them more inaccessible. Moreover, continuing education is, in fact, nothing less than an attack on individual freedom, a violation of consciousness: There is a point beyond which you do not have to excel, a point at which you can relax and be yourself without being hassled by the educational community, or the government community, or any other community.
Clearly, the discourse is radical. It could only be pointed out that adult education is not everywhere subject to such oversell nor to intellectual terrorism, in short, to the manipulation which Ohliger rightly denounces. On the other hand, the freedom to cease engaging in structured learning stands opposite the right to liberation, to freedom from sickness, hunger, material and intellectual poverty, political alienation, all of which are in fact the lot of a large part of humanity. Is it possible or even conceivable that the latter liberation could take place if individuals are armed only with ignorance? Of course, Ohliger did not have this disinherited majority in mind in his discussion.
The two articles in the Trends and Cases section are in some sense a rejoinder to the texts in Viewpoints and Controversies. It is disturbing that at the turn of the twenty-first century, notes Abeje, more children than ever in developing countries are without any educational opportunities, to say nothing of their illiterate parents. Obviously, the distance between excessive structured learning and continuing education and Abejes concerns is immense.
Instead of theory he offers a description and analysis of childrens and adults efforts to extract a basic minimum of the education refused them by the formal school system. Why is there such a frantic race for instruction? The answer is simply that the capacity to read and write contributes to the quality of life, increases an individuals material resources and hence insures his independence, if not his freedom. Such a relation has been known in both developed and developing countries for along time. It is also well known that, regardless of context, the poorest, the lowest paid, are those who are completely illiterate.
While awaiting greater equality of access to formal schooling, however old-fashioned, Abejes forthright and unorthodox alternatives should give food for thought: Is it not better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness?
Although the problem raised by Qamar is prevalent in the Third World, the solution adopted in Papua New Guinea is more unusual. What can be done for young people leaving school with or without a diploma, when resources are scarce and possibilities for labour-market insertion are extremely limited? What can be done after, as well as before, this phenomenon appears? Imposing limits to post-primary education, in order to avoid aggravating unemployment among graduates, juvenile delinquency and an obvious waste of material and human resources invested in useless, because unusable, training constitutes a political choice. Once such a decision is taken and implemented, it is placed in a framework of measures designed to temper its rigidity by re-integrating young people in their villages and providing training which is closely linked to real needs in their immediate environments.
In a situation of austerity, the most pervasive realism sometimes gives rise to modest alternatives which will be acceptable when proved successful, but whose inventiveness is frequently more efficient than piecemeal educational policy. Many countries faced with similar problems might give thought to this case and come up with further transitional solutions, without forgetting that nothing can replace a global economic and social plan which has been democratically conceived and implemented in order to provide integrated and independent development.
In his personal conclusion, Ohliger already forecasts escalating literacy requirements... waiting in the wings, including visual literacy and computer literacy , which are, according to him, mainly gimmicks to impose high tech equipment. Such is not our intention in presenting this second open file (the first one appeared in Vol. X, No. 1, 1980, pp. 43-98) devoted to mass media education in schools.
The general problem is now well known: everywhere in the world two sources of information and knowledge co-exist for the child and the adolescent: the traditional school, with its separate hierarchically framed disciplines, and strong distinctions between in-school and out-of-school activities, etc. It is surrounded by another school, that of cinema, television, radio, the press, the comic strip, the poster, etc. For a long time, these two schools either ignored each other or coexisted in a state of scarcely veiled hostility. In more recent years, educators and decision-makers, as well as politicians and parents, have become aware of the necessity for the classic school system to come to terms with the mass media; to define techniques and methods in order to study them; to understand their scope and integrate them in an appropriate fashion into school curricula, without attempting to make pupils and teachers into media specialists.
Media education involves opening the school to the whole of life, to that which is not of the school but which surrounds and permeates it, as well as making it responsible for transforming passive consumption into intentional and critical use of the medias mechanisms and messages. It would be illusory to expect the powerful media voluntarily to relinquish their present role and adapt themselves to schools. Too much consciousness-raising education should not be expected from family education either. The school is theoretically and practically in the best position to conceptualize and undertake this educational role. Even so, the school would need to relinquish its ivory tower along with certain privileges, and exercise considerable flexibility in its structures, methods and conception of curriculum and scholastic disciplines. Faced with such a challenge, the school needs to adapt itself, retrain itself, open to the world or accept that eventually it will be reduced to representing marginal and optional knowledge within the medias larger vision and training experience displacing traditional legitimate knowledge with its own values.
Our open file in no way encompasses the whole area of media investigation and initiatives. Nonetheless, the wealth of ideas is sufficient to indicate the poles, configuration and major tendencies of this new area which the concept of education so completely covers since it involves both acquiring knowledge and technical, moral, civic know-how.
It is most encouraging to realize that media education discussion has gone beyond the stage of initial awareness and statements of principle. The rather theoretical texts by Masterman (United Kingdom), Dahl (Norway), Barbiellini Amidei (Italy), Genzwein (Hungary) are followed by analyses of genuine national and regional experiences which are either institutionalized or in the process of integration (Finland, Switzerland, France). In other words, although still empirical, both action and reflection have been undertaken and are progressing. It remains to be hoped that this double process will develop, particularly in the industrializing countries where the problem is more severe, as the medias far from neutral value systems and forms have considerable impact.