Media Literacy Education: Do we have to?

As teachers we are in a constant dilemma of how to best use our time in the classroom. We must deliver a curriculum that excites, engages and meets the needs of our diverse students whilst simultaneously linking it to national requirements and assessments. The dilemma of what we include is continuous and not for the fainthearted. We often fight to priortise key learning areas and somehow manage to skim the surface of other learning areas. Some we barely do justice to. Lets face it, the fight is real. It exists beyond you as an individual teacher and school. In fact, research illustrates that this happens internationally across the teaching profession. Teachers grapple to remain true to the learning areas and competencies they hold so dear, the areas they know develop the whole child while juggling the increasing demands of National Standards, which require us to document, collect, assess, annotate on a seemingly endless basis.

While we are caught up in this circus juggling act under the surface brews a new curriculum area. Enter media literacy. As professionals we have probably all heard about it. But what exactly is it? How important is it? And, says who? In fact, let’s be frank, regardless of all the finer details how on earth can we possibly squeeze something else into our classroom programme?

Lets first looked at how Media Literacy is defined.

It can be defined as “…a set of competencies that enable us to interpret media texts and institutions to make media of our own, and to recognize and engage with the social and political influence of media in everyday life.” (Hoechsmann & Poyntz, 2012, p. 1)

Or to strip it down to the most basic definition, media literacy is the

“ability to ACCESS, ANALYZE, EVALUATE, CREATE, and ACT using all forms of communication.” (National Association for Media Literacy Education-NAMLE)

Reading the definitions may bring a sigh of relief. They contain similar language to that used in the New Zealand Curriculum. So, perhaps this is something you are already covering in class? Or if media literacy became a compulsory part of the National Curriculum I’m sure you could in fact explain in someway that you are already teaching elements of it in your classroom. However, gather strength and/or a coffee and take a further look below.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2011) are so adamant that all students worldwide need to be media and information literate they have declared it a fundamental human right. But who’s responsible for ensuring that all students become media and information literate?

UNESCO view teachers “as principal agents of change”. They are calling for us as a profession to step up and start sinking our teeth into how we will overtly teach media literacy skills to our students. They say,

Rather than ignoring the media–as many educators still try to do–we need to begin by recognising that they are an established fact of life. Whether we believe that the media play a negative or a positive role in children’s lives, we do them little service by pretending that they do not exist. (UNESCO, 2006, p.21)

What’s actually happening in New Zealand with children and the media? A survey of New Zealand children aged 6-14 in 2014 reveal:

Children have increasing access to media with 72% having access to a tablet and 48% to a smart phone.

88% of them watch TV everyday. 66% use the Internet on a daily basis and 36% listen to the radio everyday.

No surprises when the research found YouTube to be the ‘most popular media platform’ with 35% of children accessing it daily. (NZ on Air, 2015)

So, Kiwi kids are proving themselves to be heavy media uses. What does this actually mean for us as educators? How can we support our students as media consumers?

As teachers, we know the New Zealand Curriculum (2007) and it’s aspirations.

Recall these?

  • Our students will be effective users of communication tools (p.8).nautilis_medium
  • They will be active seekers, users and creators of knowledge (p.8).
  • To be successful participants, they need to be effective oral, written, and visual communicators who are able to think critically and in-depth (p.18).
  • Students will communicate knowledge and ideas in appropriate ways; listen and read critically, assessing the value of what they hear and read (p.16).

We could say that the NZ Curriculum suggests there is a place for media literacy in the classroom programme but currently there is no actual requirement to teach it.

Is this a problem? Surely we can continue to dabble into teaching media literacy skills as we see fit? Linking any incidental lessons to these broader curriculum statements? Lets look at what some research studies are saying about our students’ achievement in media and information literacy.

  • Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) found that in the area of online social activities and searching for information online students in New Zealand performed below the OECD average.
  • A longitudal study between 1997-2005 illustrated that students at primary school were not increasing their information skills.
  • Secondary school students tended to use a small range of search strategies, often not critiquing or checking the reliability of information they found online.
  • New Zealand students are entering tertiary level study without the information literacy skills needed to be successful at university. (all cited in Bruce et al.).

Ok, so perhaps not our finest moment in educational statistics. It’s looking as if our world-renowned national curriculum may have a few gaps.

Even the Americans appear to be one step ahead of us here in New Zealand. In 2015 the US launched their very first Media Literacy Week. Check out this short video to see how they define media literacy and justify the need for an increasing awareness of media literacy amongst the public and education sectors.

Like in NZ, media literacy education in the US is not a National Curriculum requirement as yet. But the Media Literacy Week seems to suggest a drive in that direction.

The video touches on the deeper issues of media literacy and like researchers in the field, it begins to highlight how powerful the media is in representing the world in a particular way. As, UNESCO explains “the media do not offer us a transparent “window on the world,” but a mediated version of the world. They don’t just present reality, they re-present it” (p.27, 2006).

Stuart Hall, a renowned researcher in the field of media and the role it plays in society agrees by saying

And because there are so many different and conflicting ways in which meaning about      the world can be constructed, it matters profoundly what and who gets left out, and how things,   people, events, relationships are represented (Hall, 1996, cited in McQueen, 1998, p. 139).

The speaker in the video below is passionate about how media literacy skills and critical thinking skills can work together to empower our students.

When we begin to look more deeply at the power media hold, the need for media literacy education in schools speaks for itself. So is media literacy education a learning area that we as educators want to ignore or purely skim the surface of it? I think the stakes are too high for our students. I’m keen to delve deeper.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to look at ways we can incorporate media literacy education within the junior school. What are the skills or competencies young learners need to acquire in order to become more media literate? I’m very keen to see how these skills are similar to or relate to other early literacy and thinking skills. I’ll be thinking about ways in which we can implement the teaching and learning of these skills into our already existing classroom programmes. I would love to hear your thoughts on how media literacy and literacy might interrelate. But you don’t need to wait for me. If you are eager to start the new school year off with some quality media literacy focused sessions  you might find this resource helpful.


It seems to condense academic research into teacher speak- just what we need!

Anna Moorhead




Bruce, T., Ladbrook, J., Villers, H., Gaerlan-Price, E., Hoben, N. (2015) Media and information literacy: A 21st century human right? In The 21st Century curriculum? (p.122-137) Auckland, New Zealand. Edify Limited.

Hall S. (1997) ‘The work of representation’, in Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices. London: Sage in association with the Open University, pp. 15–27

Hoechsmann M. and Poyntz S. R. (2012) ‘What is Media Literacy?’, in Media literacies: a critical introduction. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 1–16.

McQueen D. (1998) ‘Representation and Stereotyping’, in Television: a media     student’s guide. New York: Arnold.

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum framework. Wellington, New Zealand: Learning Media.

National Association for Media Literacy Education-NAMLE. (2017). New York.

Retrieved from:

New Zealand on Air. (2015) Children’s media use study. New Zealand.

Retrieved from:

UNESCO (2006). Media education: a kit for teachers, students, parents and professionals | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Handbook for Teachers section:pp,19-25

UNESCO (2011). Media education: a kit for teachers, students, parents and professionals | United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Handbook for Teachers retrieved from


5 thoughts on “Media Literacy Education: Do we have to?

  1. Hi Anna,

    Thank you for sharing your ideas.

    I think you have summarised well the big questions around media literacy and the role we play as teachers.

    It is interesting that the US have a ‘media literacy week’, and I enjoyed the video you linked to.

    What resonated with me the most about your blog was the fact that, even though media literacy is acknowledged as being crucial, we, as teachers, are not required to teach it. I understand some happen in secondary school in media studies, but only for those students who choose to take the subject. Moreover, a big draw card for students to take media studies is that they will learn production, thus this can make up a large chunk of the course.

    Your work has really got me thinking about this. I do not have any experience of the primary sector, but perhaps in secondary schools media literacy should come under the social studies banner. Possibly it is a more important skill than mapping and bar graphing! As Head of Humanities, you have certainly given me a lot to consider… and maybe some more work too…

    Thanks Anna.


    1. Interesting points Aidan – and where Media Studies should sit was a question that Carl Greenstreet researched in his Masters thesis – the teachers he interviewed saw it as having connections across many different areas, social studies included.


  2. Hi Anna I understand the messages you were imparting to the teachers were great. You said rather than ignoring the media, educators still try to begin recognising that they are an established fact of life. True: so we teachers need to support our children to choose and decide what is suitable for all of us. That reminds me of the need for the teachers and parents to work together with our young children in terms media literacy education and other areas too. I believe at kindergarten it’s possible we have great support from our families. On the whole great blog Anna. I really like the link on what is literacy.


  3. I find it so fascinating that there are so many aspirations in the NZ Curriculum and high mobile device use yet no requirements to teach it. Also interesting to see in the PISA study we performed below OECD average for online use. I wonder if that will change with Fibre networks and the governments initiative to improve broadband services to schools? I have heard many a teacher complain about the internet crashing when the class tries to go online at the same time which may be a reason why we are behind? I myself have struggled with intermittent internet so had to scrap some activities I had planned for students. I also like the idea of a media literacy week and I agree it would really challenge schools to start teaching students more about media representation. Enjoyed your style of writing too 🙂


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