Media literacy should be integrated into formal educational environments as soon as possible, but under the condition that the experts teaching it are well acquainted with the subject. This is indicated by an analysis on the topic “Education versus disinformation: assessment of needs in Bulgaria”, prepared by the Association “Euro Advance” as part of the EU funded project Read Twice. The document analyzes the needs of various target groups when it comes to media literacy and, more specifically, the acquisition of skills that help limit the spread of disinformation.
The authors of the document have included the opinions of experts from the sectors of formal and non-formal education, media, and non-governmental organizations, and their views on what is the biggest challenge when it comes to teaching media literacy, who should teach it and how, and what are the target groups with the greatest needs. Among the quoted experts is Georgi Elenkov, legal consultant of the National Network for Children and coordinator of the Legal Aid Network for Children.
The Media Literacy Index of the Open Society Institute – Sofia for another year shows that Bulgarian society is definitely the most vulnerable to disinformation in the European Union and the main reason for this is the quality of education.
According to Georgi Elenkov, the main factors contributing to this low score are the strong influence of key hybrid aggressors in Bulgaria; the inability and lack of will of institutions to respond to disinformation; turning citizens, highly vulnerable to disinformation, due to the above circumstances, into “civilian trolls”, resonators for disinformation theses. The most vulnerable victims of fake news and disinformation in our society are people with low civic and democratic culture, people in poverty, and representatives of marginalized and vulnerable groups.
In the assessment in “Education versus disinformation: assessment of needs in Bulgaria”, surveys with users were analyzed to determine how they feel about their readiness to respond to disinformation and how they would improve the educational process. Current educational programs, their strengths, and weaknesses when it comes to improving media literacy and readiness against disinformation were also studied. In the context of the lack of coordinated national actions, the document offers some good practices that can improve the situation. One of them is the need to train teachers on how to use digital tools. One of the conclusions in the assessment is that in our country there is almost no training in media literacy in the curricula of the lower educational levels, while in higher education it is mainly found in specialized programs, such as those in journalism and communications faculties. The specific topic of fake news and disinformation is rarely addressed as a whole. Given the general problems in education, training in media literacy remains outside the priority topics. The lack of coordinated efforts to address the problem at the national level also leads to the fact that many teachers lack the confidence and skills to teach subjects in this area, which further aggravates the prospects for solving the problem.
In addition to integrating media literacy into national curricula from primary to higher education, here are some of the other recommendations in the analysis: • Development of a comprehensive national strategy for media literacy by establishing a working group that includes experts from academia, media, and civil society; • Adequate regulation of online media and the application of effective tools for sanctioning publications and platforms that disseminate disinformation; • Development of age-appropriate curricula covering topics such as critical media analysis, digital citizenship, media ethics, and responsible online behavior; • Training students to critically evaluate and analyze media messages, including identifying biases, evaluating sources, and fact-checking information; • Improving practical student training in fact-checking and information assessment; • Supporting youth-led media initiatives (vlogs, blogs, podcasts, or community-based media platforms) by providing mentoring, resources, and networking to help young people develop their media skills and amplify their voices.
It is time for democracies in Europe to effectively counteract the strong corrosive impact of several dozen troll farms, leading European societies to extreme division, comments Georgi Elenkov from the National Network for Children on the conclusions of the report.
The full document “Education versus disinformation: assessment of needs in Bulgaria” is published here.