How The Student View news course educates young people about misinformation and media literacy
William Carter suffered so badly from dyslexia in school that he could no longer read by the age of 13.
Today, aged 22, he is studying at the University of California, Berkeley on a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship after earning a first-class degree in Politics and International Relations from Bristol University. One of the steps on Carter’s study journey was his participation in The Student View, an innovative lunchtime project at his school, the Kingsdale Foundation in West Dulwich, south London, where students from poorer backgrounds learned media literacy to help them identify trustworthy news.
Another graduate of this program is Adam Abdullah, who was elected Young Mayor of Lewisham at the age of 15 at Addey & Stanhope School in Lewisham. A year later he published a byline in the Financial Times writing about combating youth violence.
The Student View has ambitious plans to bring media literacy to 10,000 school children across the UK over the next three years. This is vital work and deserves a place on the schedule. In the past year, teenagers have been exposed to misinformation like never before as they spend more of their lives online in an atmosphere of high anxiety.
Solomon Elliott was just 21 years old and beginning his teaching career at the Kingsdale Foundation School when he realized the unprecedented vulnerability of this generation to lies and propaganda. He watched with horror as the mainstream media broke out on Donald Trump as he cynically spoke out in support of the outrageous “birth conspiracy” aimed at undermining Barack Obama’s right to run for president.
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“Trump was ridiculed, but it was still a topic of discussion in the mainstream news,” he says. “The super chilling was that it was actually an effective political tactic.”
Elliott realized that social media makes every publisher and that teenagers often measure their worth by the reactions they get after posting on those platforms.
“Their most important feedback loop was that they were publicly celebrated when they published something. How could this be put into a pedagogical framework? I thought journalism was a cool way to do this. “
He started a newspaper club for 7th grade students who received free school meals. Sixth graders, including Carter, attended as mentors. The participants have developed well. Elliott recalls, “Their reading and writing skills improved and they became more confident because they received more attention.”
The 12-hour Student View program, aimed at 14-18 year olds, was created on a WordPress blog that Elliott shared with student teacher friends at five other schools who then adopted the idea. At the age of 23, Elliott put his teaching career on hold and went full-time at The Student View, which grew to 20 schools in its first year.
The scheme helps teenagers distinguish between “misinformation” (often unintentional), “disinformation” (calculated falsehoods), and gossip. It is based on the Finnish model of media literacy. “They have had to deal with systemic propaganda since the Bolshevik Revolution and have made it the foundation of their teaching,” says Elliott.
The student view has fueled the imagination of media professionals. Elliott found support from Jon Slade, the Financial Times’ chief commercial officer, who became a sponsor. Alan Rusbridger, former editor of the Guardian, became patron. Google provided a grant that allowed The Student View to expand beyond London to 72 pop-up school newsrooms in 20 cities from Cardiff to Newcastle.
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Well-known journalists, including Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Afua Hirsch, worked on the program as volunteers. School newsroom stories are posted on The Student View website. Local media outlets including Bradfords Telegraph & Argus, the Oldham Times and the South London Press have reported police car chases, racing attacks and the evictions of private renters during the pandemic.
But the Covid-19 crisis has caused The Student View to retreat to London and are now raising funds to return to a national foundation. Elliott, who sits on the BBC’s Advisory Board on Diversity and Inclusion, is part of an all-party parliamentary media literacy group contributing to the government’s upcoming Online Harms Bill.
The Student View commissioned a Teacher Tapp survey of 6,500 teachers that found 48 percent hadn’t even heard of the government’s current media literacy guidelines.
He hopes the topic will be officially adopted by the education authorities and Ofsted. “I remember [teaching] a 30-minute (counterterrorism) prevention course, ”says Elliott. “There isn’t a terrorist on every street corner, but misinformation is everywhere.”
With 1,500 students attending the Student View course, Elliott, 28, aims to support her career goals. “The next step is to select the most promising talents and get them jobs as professional journalists.”