Media Literacy in Czech Schools: Healing a Broken Promise

Results of research among students executed by the MEDIAN research agency earlier this year showed that the majority of Czech middle school students have a low level of media literacy.  Their knowledge of how social media and internet search engines work is limited, and almost half are unable to differentiate between paid advertisements and authentic journalism.

Despite this finding, Czech elementary and middle schools have been obliged to integrate media literacy lessons into their syllabi since 2007. The schools are free to decide how many media lessons their students get, and what the form of the lessons will be. Based on research from 2017, 54% of Czech middle school students receive fewer than 10 hours of media literacy lessons during their studies.

Although the Czech Ministry of Education decided that media literacy was to be compulsory, it did not issue any materials or additional support for teachers. Several educational organizations became concerned with the fact that teachers were asked to teach something that they were not trained in, and had no guidance for, including JSNS (Jeden svět na školách – One World at School), an educational programme of People in Need, the largest NGO in central Europe.

In 2018, I decided to research the JSNS media literacy program for my practicum in the Strategic Communication Master’s program of La Salle University at UNYP. The aim of my research was to assess the effectiveness of the JSNS media literacy program in order to better communicate its value to the public, increase awareness, and improve its public image. Research was conducted with teachers who have been using JSNS resources at elementary and middle schools in order to gain perspective on the JSNS approach to media literacy, and there was a particular focus on teachers at Czech vocational schools, since according to research from JSNS, the students at these schools were the least media literate.

The research confirmed that one of the problems facing the implementation of media literacy classes at schools is the lack of media literacy education for teachers themselves: more than 73% of teachers had no media literacy education. Moreover, the teachers at these schools sometimes feel that there is not enough time to spend on media literacy, or that they have more important subjects to teach. Despite the lack of time, and due to the lack of education, more than 70% of the respondents appreciated the materials provided by JSNS. The specially designed, free teaching resources have helped the teachers in class preparation.

I believe that knowing facts is still somewhat important but what I, as a teacher, am most concerned about is how the students will be able to find and sort information themselves in the future.

The idea that there is insufficient time in the curriculum for media literacy was also found in interviews with teachers from non-vocational schools. Teachers are usually very keen to include these matters, but they feel that other subjects are of more priority. “At the end of the day, it depends on each individual teacher how much they include media literacy in their teaching,” says Lucie Tetivova, a teacher at Botičská elementary school, who tries to incorporate bits and pieces of media literacy into many various lessons. In general, teachers are aware of the importance of media literacy in today’s world. As Alena Svejnohova, a teacher at PORG (and also a lawyer) puts it, “I believe that knowing facts is still somewhat important but what I, as a teacher, am most concerned about is how the students will be able to find and sort information themselves in the future.

Ivona Kobrova, a young teacher from Slovenská elementary school confirms the idea that older teachers feel hesitant in including media literacy in their lessons. They feel a lack of education or experience with new media hinders them, but she believes that this need not be the case. “You are already doing media literacy with your students, you just do not know about it. Media are not only social media and younger generations will appreciate you bringing a newspaper to a class. They might have not seen many newspapers before, but this only makes it more interesting for them.” It is understandable that older generations of teachers may have a different approach to media literacy, but obtaining training on the subject could be a great step forward. Ivona said that “some of my colleagues thought that to google something is swearing, or they had no idea that students can find the Czech national anthem on YouTube in few seconds. But this is not mere media literacy, these are IT skills as well.”

JSNS provides free online teaching resources with supporting materials such as documentary films, and a teacher training course on media literacy. According to all teachers engaged in the research, the JSNS resources are excellent. Marie Veverova from MENZA grammar school states, “there is great teaching material at the website, I like the fact that the activities can easily be adjusted so that they fit various student audiences. The topic of media literacy is very broad, so it is great to take part in a JSNS training course to learn more and subscribe to the JSNS newsletter to stay informed.”

The Czech government’s intention to implement media literacy in schools was undoubtedly a proposal made in good faith. However, due to low funding and engagement, it has for the most part turned out to be a somewhat broken promise. Organizations like JSNS are helping to resolve this. By offering free resources such as online teaching materials, documentary movies to use in class and teacher training, JSNS is playing a great support role in media literacy classes for those teachers who reach out.

Written by Aneta Stavinohová

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