How integrating media literacy and classroom education can help students learn to ‘read the world’

An open letter to educators: How we can help students learn to ‘read the world’

November 20, 2021 02:34 pm | Updated 04:25 pm IST

Jai Bhim: An opportunity to discuss about social issues and the impact of media.

Jai Bhim: An opportunity to discuss about social issues and the impact of media.

Dear fellow educators,

I am an educator with over two decades of experience in English Language Teaching (ELT) and a keen interest in media literacy. Recently, when discussing the movie Jai Bhim with some educators, I suggested that it be discussed in the classroom as part of media education. This received a mixed reaction.

Jai Bhim is based on a real-life incident from the 1990s when three members of a Scheduled Tribe (Irular community) were arrested and tortured in police custody. One of the detainees died in police custody and his wife, with the assistance of a high court advocate, fought for justice. The inspiration for the protagonist is Judge Chandru who, as an advocate, fought a legal battle against those in power and helped the marginalised get justice.

In brief, the film is about caste discrimination, dehumanisation, social inequality, police brutality, custodial torture, human rights violations, legal battle for justice, constitutional duties and rights, and more. The film raises several ethical questions.

Reading the world

Some may ask how this socio-political movie is connected to education and why students should know or discuss it in the classroom? What is the goal or purpose of education? It is to help students become aware of what is happening in their community and society at large, to create a conducive environment for them to think critically, and to encourage them contribute to society constructively. A critical viewing of this movie and discussion on its various aspects can help students learn to “read the world”. I borrow this phrase from Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s Literacy: Reading the Word and the World.

Here are some sample questions for discussion after watching the movie: What aspects did you like or dislike most? What impact did the movie have on you? What is your critical response to the story/portrayal of caste discrimination? Do you think that the director has done justice to the real story? What is your comment on the justice system in the country? Why are people of certain castes oppressed by dominant castes? Is there any bias in the movie? By discussing these objectively, students can develop their critical thinking skills.

As educators and not mere teachers, we have a social and moral responsibility to help students not only to “read the word” but also to “read the world”. We can help students by integrating media literacy/education in the classroom.

Media education is the process of helping students become critical and discerning receivers of content and enabling them to identify bias. Behind every single media message there is an overarching pattern. Encouraging students to identify the pattern and enabling them to understand how the patterns reinforce certain ideas, values and social norms is the responsibility of media educators. Media education enables students to understand how the media work and helps them become aware of the impact of media (mass media and social media) on their lives.

Today, in the age of social media, we are bombarded with viral memes, tweets, news, views, and videos. There is a flood of information as well as misinformation/disinformation that we receive every day from the mainstream and social media. It affects us in many ways and influences our thinking. It forces us to have a certain world view. Unless students are taught to analyse the content with a discerning eye, they will be misinformed and misled.

Dear educators, we have a moral responsibility to help our students to learn to “read the world”. Helping them to “read the word” is easy but empowering them to “read the world” is challenging. As educators we should be ready to face challenges.

The writer is an ELT resource person and education columnist.

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