Include Media Literacy programs in Indian education curriculums
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The media ecosystem of India is replete with examples of the usage of disinformation for the benefit of certain agencies. These actions aim to bend the truth in ways that make the truth more palatable for the unwary audiences that fall for it and end up promoting it further. While arguments can be made for some of these incidents being harmless, in the long term they damage the credibility of genuine news sources and push audiences to treat all sources with the same lens of suspicion. There are also examples where such incidents have implications that affect lives irreversibly. As per a study by Statista on Fake News in India, 45% respondents had been exposed to stories that were completely made up for political or commercial reasons and 40% were exposed to stories where facts were spun or twisted to push a particular agenda. In fact, the sinister use of disinformation in modern democracies can overhaul entire governments.
However, there is a silver lining in the form of rising awareness around fact-checkers like AltNews or BoomLive that are striving to counter such false narratives with evidence-backed facts and proven truths. They have been able to come up with some very effective techniques that allow them to debunk social media myths at increasingly better speeds. But, given the sheer source of such misinformation and disinformation and in the absence of an automated fact-checking mechanism, it becomes difficult to keep up with the rate of content generation, and therefore there is a need for the filtration of disinformation and misinformation at the level of the information consumer. For this to be effective, consumers need to be educated about this phenomenon. Now, as consumers grow, they develop their own biases that might give rise to a need for confirmation. Hence, there is a need for educating them at the school level before they are influenced by the external environment and form their own biases.
Finland – recently rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news – is setting an effective precedent by teaching about this in primary school. In their system, these lessons are seamlessly intertwined with the curriculum itself. Students in math learn how statistics can be used to present false claims. Art classes show them how images and their meanings can be manipulated. History students analyze propaganda campaigns while language teachers demonstrate how words can be used for deception. The curriculum is part of a unique, broad strategy devised by the Finnish government after the country was first targeted with fake news stories and the government realized it had moved into the post-fact age.
There are organizations like The News Literacy Project and Action 4 Media Education that are bringing data-backed actions that are helping spread literacy and awareness about the pandemic that is misinformation.
With these precedents in mind, we propose that education boards at the state and national levels inculcate academic programs in the form of courses or workshops into their calendars where the students are made aware of the problem and taught some basic fact-checking techniques so that they develop a habit for fact-checking and also contribute in uprooting the phenomenon from the grassroots level.
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