Media education now a must in schools

Using films such as Steve McQueen's Bullit can have relevance to a number of school subjects. Picture: Contributed
Using films such as Steve McQueen's Bullit can have relevance to a number of school subjects. Picture: Contributed
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Headteachers need to help to push forward the delivery of learning using film and other forms of media so pupils better understand their subjects, says Rick Instrell

All teachers have done it. As marking and reports mount up, Sir decides not to teach his mathematicss class today and instead shows pupils a DVD. They welcome this break in routine and the threat of returning to ‘normal’ classwork ensures the class behaves. Sir notes with satisfaction the usual miscreants are dozing off already and completes another report …

Of course this is not approved of by the headteacher, so Sir selects a film which can be vaguely related to the curriculum. As a cinephile, he has chosen Bullitt with the celebrated Steve McQueen car chase. If the heidie looks in, Sir says it’s part of the curriculum and the class are going to do speed calculations by timing the chase and working out the distance from the route on Google maps. Alas, Sir’s imagined exercise remains just that. There’s no time to fly through the air like Frank Bullitt when there’s exams to be passed.

But, encouraged by support from Education Scotland and the new SQA National qualifications, some Scottish teachers are now integrating film into their teaching. And cultural bodies are supporting this development. For example,the Dundee Contemporary Arts’ Discovery Film Festival (until 3 November) and the National Youth Film Festival (until 8 November) support screenings with materials linked to the Scottish curriculum. Yet the overall picture for film education is patchy and over-dependent on a cinephile teacher.

In his book The Age of the Image, Stephen Apkon argued no child should leave school without being able to critically interpret and create visual media. This should include the ability to script, shoot, edit and distribute a coherent video piece which uses film narrative techniques to present a persuasive argument. This expanded notion of literacy needs also to include all forms of media such as print, audio and interactive with due attention given to ethical issues and corporate interests involved.

It seems to me perverse that many pupils are walking around with technology which would allow much of this to be done, yet in most schools the use of smart devices is either banned or limited at best. Those schools which have emmbraced the classroom use of smart devices have been delighted by the increase in pupil motivation.

It is not sufficient to leave media education to the individual enthusiastic teacher. As leading UK media educationist Cary Bazalgette says: “If media education is worth having, then everyone should have it.”

So what has to be done? I have noticed that schools with a strong media education presence tend to have positive support from the headteacher. This is the key element which would lead to a uniformity in provision of media education across Scottish schools.

Heads need to support staff in implementing cross-curricular media education with three strands: teaching about media, teaching through media and developing through media. Teaching about the media can be done in various contexts: literacy, English, expressive arts, technologies, social subjects, religious and moral education.

Teaching through the media is already done in many subjects such as science, mathematics, history, geography and modern languages.

But usually there is little attention to critical analysis of how the media represent their subject.

For example, why is it that excellent television science programmes with engaging presenters such Professors Brian Cox and Marcus du Sautoy rarely include any mathematical equations? Might it be possible for pupils themselves to take an equation such as Ohm’s law and explain it conceptually and mathematically by scripting, shooting, editing and screening a short video?

Such an exercise requires pupils to engage with the concepts and their mathematical expression as well as to utilise high-level literacy skills to communicate understanding.

In the process, pupils might develop a deep understanding of concept well beyond the surface comprehension displayed by plugging numbers in an equation and getting the right answer’.

Developing through media is the use of media to promote pupil health and wellbeing, now regarded as the responsibility of all Scottish teachers.

Issues such as teenage sex and abortion can be tackled in an engaging, enjoyable way using a film such as Juno. An obvious need is to address the media’s tendency to represent perfect female and male bodies and the resultant distortion in pupils’ perceptions of themselves and others.

But if all teachers are to be truly involved in health and wellbeing education they need to be shown how to deliver it through the use of film and media and dialogic pupil-driven methods – rather than outmoded printed worksheets or Scottish ‘ah tellt ye’ methodologies.

So, headteachers of Scotland: become champions of the policy of media education for all. There’s nothing to lose except pupil apathy.

• Rick Instrell is on the management committee of the Association for Media Education in Scotland

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