Title: Introducing Media Literacy in Greek schools: a hurdle race
Author: Irene Andriopoulou
Head of Media Literacy Dpt.
Hellenic Audiovisual Institute,
Member of the EU Media Literacy Expert Group
The notion of media literacy in Greece
A multidisciplinary and multi-faceted approach is required in order to carefully define the notion of media literacy in Greece. There is no doubt that media literacy is a major catalyst for the democratization of the modern society, as it interferes with multiple parameters, such as politics, social and economic relations, ideologies and ethics, arts and culture, information and telecommunications. Hence, it transforms the way we mediate, react and communicate. This status quo applies to the Greek public scene as well, with media literacy drawing interest mainly from the social and cultural studies field, such as the mass media and communication ground from both the academic and public policy engagement and the educational approach to follow. Other, complementary areas that media literacy draws concern from are:
– Public Health and Pediatrics (TV & Internet on the spotlight)
– Film, Animation & Graphics
– Journalism, Media Production (Vocational approach)
– Telecommunication & Digital Media
– Regulation, protection of minors, protection of copyrights of material, etc.
Each and every one of these approaches focus on a certain strand of media literacy, sometimes without incorporating it into the broad context it operates in… to the bigger picture, that is.
The definition of media literacy
With regard to the definition, although there is yet a multitude of terms in the Greek language on media literacy due to the linguistic variety and semiotics (paedeia, alphabetism, pedagogy, eggramatismos), there seems to exist a primary agreement that focuses on its content from a holistic point of view. Accordingly, the Greek notion of media literacy ("paedeia in media") adopts the EU definition "…the ability to access, to understand, to critically evaluate, to create communications…" adding thus, one additional strand: that of the media as "agents" able to control and exert social, political and economic influence in the media market and stakeholders. In other words, it has strong linkages with issues of power and control. In this context, the media serve not only for a textual analysis and deconstruction of meanings (on the production procedure, the text itself, the reception of the text), but are defined as social configurations of the public sphere.
Additionally, there is a distinction between media literacy and media education, with the former to cite the media literate environment altogether and the latter referring to the status quo of formal education in schools.
Where does media literacy stand nowadays in Greece?
So, what happens with media literacy in an educational setting? What are the complexities of the educational system that serve for and against media literacy?
In terms of structure, the national educational system in Greece for Nursery, Primary and High School, has the same, compulsory formation for all regions of the country. This is most often instructed by national guidelines and one national curriculum applicable to all public & private schools.
By and large, the Greek educational system has been policy-driven by each government in power and not student-oriented. As a result, the students have always been passively watching the decisions taken on their behalf for their pedagogic development, decisions that most often were not based on their experiential and actual educational needs. The new school reform under implementation in 2010-2011 (in 800 selected schools for the time being, and on a national level, in full effect from 2012-2013), supervised by an experts committee consisting of academics and educators from the Pedagogical Institute, is making a serious effort to modify that long-held pattern towards a peer-oriented culture.
The new school agenda, apart from the basic principles of traditional education, is enhanced with the notions of cross-thematic education, flexibility of knowledge, public citizenship and lifelong learning directions. The main premise behind the school reform is that educational systems are dynamic in that they have a potentiality for continuous adjustment and modification, conditioned by the interaction between school education and society.
Media Literacy in the National Curriculum?
a) As an optional course
A precipitant view of the new school schema would find no signs of an existence of media literacy education. A closer look though, would reveal some substantial, clear amends as well as some "disguised" ones, throughout the curriculum. The main addition noted in the school agenda is the incorporation of Film Studies as an optional course in Secondary Education (High school), taught along with Drama (3 hours per week). Although the content of the course is not quite clear yet and although the course is offered solely in the secondary level of education, it constitutes, nonetheless, a positive step towards media literacy in schools from a cultural point of view.
b) In the Flexible Zone in Primary and Secondary Education
A more apparent dimension of media teaching at schools is under the program Flexible Zone, which is an optional unit operating for the past 3 years in Primary and Secondary Education. It is a pilot application that ranges from 4 teaching hours per week for the lower levels to 2 teaching hours for the higher levels of primary education whereas for Junior High School it is limited to 2 hours per week.
See Table 1.
The Flexible Zone Program
Hours per week
A & B Grade
C& D Grade
E & F Grade
Units under Flexible Zone in Primary & Secondary Schools
The units available under the Flexible Zone are:
– the single standing, separate unit "Use of Mass Media"
– Cross-thematic reference in the units of:
– Information & Communication Technology
– Citizenship Education
– Consumer Literacy
– Environmental Studies
In Junior High School, the course on the "Use of Mass Media" is enhanced with the extra notion of "Journalism".
The Flexible Zone program is the main application of a cross-thematic curriculum approach, as it offers basic information and considerable guidance for teaching media literacy issues.
Yet, we do not have measurable data of how much and how often the media relative units are actually being used in the classroom. The media units in the Flexible Zone are optional, non-compulsory courses to be selected among a range of other topics, and the final decision is dependent upon each teacher’s willingness to enter the media area.
The Importance of cross curricular approach
This is not to downplay the importance of a reinstatement of a cross-curricular approach in the classroom, a notion that dates back to the era of classical Greece: Plato, the famous Greek philosopher stipulated the magnitude of cross-thematic teaching and learning in "The Republic" (Politeia) by illustrating that:
"the several courses need to be lined up and taught in such an optimum way that they are interrelated, reality-driven and constitute a totality." (Plato‘s Republic, B‘ vol.)
«Τα χύδην μαθήματα συναπτέον εις σύνοψιν αλλήλων των μαθημάτων και της του όντος φύσεως»
Nonetheless, as mentioned before, Flexible Zone is non-compulsory and hence, non-binding for the educators. Altogether, the final outcome is conditional upon the educator’s own level of experience in media literacy and his communication competences.
c) ICT in the classroom
Before I proceed with the actual difficulties, I would like to point out one last strand with indirect reference to media literacy, that of ICT integration in the classroom.
a. In the weeks preceding last year’s national elections, and quite hastily if I may add, a new initiative was launched for Junior High school, entitled "Digital Classroom". Within that project, all students were entitled to a free laptop destined as an instrumental tool and not as an object of study in its own. Despite all the good intentions, the project proved to be rather unsuccessful because it lacked the critical analysis and decoding of the digital media language (lack of teacher’s training, lack of filters, main use as an entertainment tool etc.).
b. Moreover, under the new school reform agenda, ICT has been officially integrated in the Primary education curriculum since Sept. 2010 as a weekly 2-hour course in All-Day Schools.
(All-Day schools engage students for 8 hours as opposed to the majority of schools which engage them for 6 hours.)
Yet, all the above do by no means constitute an "all-inclusive" approach into the curriculum and do little to demystify the world of media literacy to students. By and large, they are distributive, single-stranded cases and they not use media literacy as an umbrella system. The main challenge, thus, is to integrate media literacy education as a core subject domain in the national curriculum, as a specialized subject, through a horizontal and vertical approach.
The Greek paradox: a shift from traditional literacy to digital literacy
Before analyzing the social realities predominant when mass media developed in the 20th century and conceptualized into the formal educational system, I would like to make a pause and look deeper into the digital literacy steps taken in education, with the ICT gradually playing a bigger role.
What exactly is ICT’s role in education? Are we talking about a tool for learning media per se or a media learning tool?
As we have already stated, the educational reality of media literacy in Greece does not meet the normative, that is the media literacy educational principles and standards set abroad. No matter how good the intentions might be, giving priority to ICT as primary notion of digital literacy in schools, without approaching it on a larger media literacy scale, will not help us find Ariadne’s thread.
The experience so far, from the inclusion of ICT in schools has proved to be rather problematic:
– Focus on the protection and safe use of the new technologies
The focus of the school agenda is mostly on the protection and the safe use of the new technologies. However, in the Digital Classroom initiative, the laptops offered to the students had many imperfections against that premise: the protection filters were not activated, parents were unaware how to fix/install them, internet access was unlimited regarding the content → laptops: ended as private property of the children, game-oriented, where parents/teachers were not allowed to go near.
– Media production and NOT media creation
The ICT courses also lack a systematic, contextual approach with critical, creative and cultural stands (the 3 Cs as Carry Bazalgette has stipulated), in that they focus mostly on the technical use and the vocational production techniques.
This misguidance of ICTs only reinforces the inequities of the Greek educational system, rather than overcoming them.
So, we have got to turn the clock around: The aim of the practical engagement of the digital media in the classroom, shall be NOT to copy the medium in use through media production techniques and safety tips, but to explore its potential in terms of meaning. Because, you cannot provide technical and digital knowledge without comprehending first, the main agreements and subcontracts that lie beneath the surface between the media stakeholders and the media paradigms.
Why has media literacy not been properly developed in formal education?
There is a saying: "link school with life and all subjects will be interlinked accordingly". So, why so far, despite the positive steps taken towards a media literacy agenda in schools, we are still being so skeptical about it?
In other words, why has media literacy not been fully integrated in the national curriculum during the past years, and most importantly during the recent school reform, implemented by leading experts of academia? Especially when there’s a wide assertion by teachers that media literacy does contribute to the cultivation of a critical, media aware and media autonomous user? This question is even more intriguing when placing it into an international context, where there is a clear shift from media literacy towards digital literacy in formal education and lifelong learning experience.
I think that the real challenge is not just to overcome the practical difficulties, such as an overloaded curriculum, the lack of teacher training, the lack of equipment and resources but to alter the overall perception we have about media as mechanisms of the modern-day society.
The conservative roots of pedagogy
As G. Jacquinot (1977) has quoted, the real problem for a media literate culture is not set by the imagery but by the pedagogy itself. The truth behind that premise in the Greek case is deep-rooted.
The core of the problem dates back to the first years of establishment of the education infrastructure in the modern societies. Ever since its formation in the 19th century, the Greek pedagogic system was based on austere and authoritarian educational conceptions with roots on elitism. Social education and emancipation were the epicenter but not for all: only the privileged ones enjoyed the benefit of education.
The evolution of pedagogy in Greece followed the infrastructure of a new, public sphere that became more visible in the 20th century, the century where also, the electronic media established their role in the public life and made themselves available to the masses, in order words turned into "mass media". But the initial reaction of formal pedagogy to mass media emergence was not the desired one.
The pedagogy model applied in the national curriculum lacked direct feedback and interactivity on behalf of the students. That is why, when mass media came into the picture with their free, expressive norms, they were considered as incompatible with the educational system and hence, were automatically marginalized and encompassed with a vague cynicism. The new mass communication models were approached as something dissimilar from the cosmic knowledge that education hegemony offered thus far. They represented mass culture, and as a result they were disdained and criticized as "popular" and therefore inappropriate for the school agenda.
The Protectionist Approach
Later on, in the middle of the 20th century, formal pedagogy based on a realist epistemology, adopted a protectionist approach against mass media: the main goal in school reference was to protect the students, to "inoculate" them with "high culture antibodies" in order to maintain their strict, educational profile intact. This is mostly due to the fact that media emergence was not borne on the analysis but rather on their social attitude and social role.
This protectionist approach indicates the great "antithesis" between mass communication and modern education. But in reality, opposites do attract.
Actually, mass media and mass education are not antagonists, they are interrelated: if you take a closer look into the education premises, you will realize that they engage the same characteristics with mass media culture:
– one medium: the promotion of knowledge through one medium (the school manual, same for all)
– one message: the notion of traditional education in schools
– one mass, homogeneous audience: the students, who engaged a role similar to that of a passive viewer
Mass Media turned into Mass Pedagogues
Gradually, mass media acquired a re-educated and informative character, along with their entertaining profile. This trend was most obvious during the 60’s and the 70’s when television reached broad public acceptance. The Greek Public Service Television ERT S.A. was at the forefront of this trend in the 70’s, with special reports and tributes to renowned Greek personalities from music (Hadjidakis), poetry (Seferis, Elytis, Karyotakis), literature (Karagatsis) ….
To encapsulate, mass media turned themselves into "mass pedagogues" of the audience, in order to change the stereotype of being popular culture disseminators. The focus of the public discourse as voiced by the mainstream audience was that "every good show is supposedly some kind of good education". It is true that today people have changed their perception regarding the role of the media, and see good points next to the allegedly negative ones, especially in the new digital media.
However, despite all the efforts made in pedagogy fields, the typecast of exclusion of media from formal education, as an overall perception lasts until today.
Conclusion – Towards a holistic media literacy approach…Aim: conquest of knowledge and information
So what do we infer from the mediated picture in Greek schools?
Media literacy needs to go further than reproducing the cognitive hierarchies and cultural discriminations of the traditional education system. This is to say, NO to the old dichotomy of elitist vs popular culture, high culture and aesthetics vs mass culture, and focus on building a strong, open, flexible knowledge of the modern society, where the user is empowered through the digital media.
In other words, media education has to go further than ICT teaching in schools and acquire a holistic approach with a deep, cultural insight into media and the right interpretation tools for it.
So, teaching about the media shall not be based only upon demystifying media texts and deconstructing their messages but on:
– a realistic social context in the educational setting
– a peer-oriented educational model
– a strong base on experiential and dynamic knowledge
– and awareness raising of the social impact of media through a critical challenge of the media system
As Lewis & Jhally point out, the goal of media literacy shall go beyond a pure "text-centered" approach and shall aim to sophisticated citizens rather than sophisticated consumers.
However, the main hurdle to overcome is not the complex and polyprismatic character of media literacy, nor the practicalities regarding the integration model at schools: what is most needed is a new vision disengaged from a conservative educational tradition and disembodied from the suspicious and preconceived, long-term misperception of mass media emergence. This is the only way to find our way out of Plato’s Cave, at the end of the tunnel and raise literacy to a whole new level.
There are no magic filters for media literacy education…we need to constantly watch and adapt to the latest developments in pedagogy worldwide. We need to look closer into the pedagogical point of each and every piece of information received – filter through the "data smog" and adopt a more critical perspective towards the information waves.
We will definitely continue working towards the creation of a strong "body of evidence" on media literacy in Greek schools, with the ultimate goal to make it the "enfant gaté" of the modern-day school education.
That is to say, in regards to the famous quote by Descartes, Cogito Ergo Sum (I Think Therefore I am), we dare to paraphrase and make media literacy elementary to Scio Ergo Sum (I Know Therefore I am).
§ Andriopoulou I. (2010) Media Literacy Profile in Greece for the International Media Literacy Research Forum, Ofcom.
§ Jacquinot G. (1977) Image et Pédagogie, PUF, coll: l’éducateur, Paris.
§ Lewes J, & Jhally S. (1998). The Struggle over Media Literacy in Journal of Communication, 48:1, ABI/INFORM Global, pg.109.
§ Paschalidis G. (2000) Education & Mass Communication: Conditions
Perspectives for teaching mass media in Primary & Secondary Education in Pedagogic Inspection, 30/2000.
 Faculties on Mass Media & Communication.
 Major actors: The Hellenic Audiovisual Institute, The Safer Internet mode on digital literacy.