The Role of Media in Developing Literacy of Children Essay

The Role of Media in Developing Literacy of Children

            In recent years, media has been viewed as a medium used merely for entertainment and pleasure. From television shows and radio dramas up to the Internet and video games, media indeed proves that entertaining the audience remains one of its primary functions.  Neil Postman, in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” stated it aptly when he noted that “entertainment is the supra ideology of all discourses on television” (Postman, 1985, p.87).

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Today however, media is moving away from its obvious appeal as it takes on a new dimension:  Education. Many communication scholars believe that media is capable of providing substantial information to its audience. This is because television, radio, film, and the Internet play a significant role in the lives of adults and most especially, children.

A study conducted by Elizabeth Moore and Richard Lutz (2000) showed that kids between the ages of 6 to 14 watch as much as 25 hours of television per week (Moore ad Lutz, 2000, p. 19). During these hours, they are heavily exposed to various shows, programs, and advertisements. This means that if television’s entertainment value can be fused in with its educational aspect; then this powerful medium will not only yield a positive effect on literacy, but it will also make the learning process more fun and effective.

Although media as an educational tool has been utilized for several years, questions and doubts regarding its role, effectiveness, and efficiency are still very frequent.

This paper will show the role and effects of media on children’s literacy by citing various researches and studies. It also aims to present the importance of media in classrooms. Likewise, this paper will also examine the different forms of media, namely television, radio, and the internet, and how they can be utilized and further improved as a helpful teaching tool.

Media Literacy

The study and use of media in school traces its origin from Film Studies curriculum during the 60s and 70s. It was only during the 1980s when the academe’s attention focused on media in general as it was suggested that film is only a section of a much broader media spectrum. Now, media studies encompass television, cinema, film, radio, print media, the Internet, as well as other media forms that “provide both information and pleasure” (Alvarado, 1987 p. 5).

Although media studies today, is recognized as part of curriculum, it still remains unheard of in many educational institutions. Its importance is also de-emphasized primarily because it is offered as an “extra subject” rather than as a compulsory course.

In the study “Children’s Television Viewing Habits”, Melissa Lander (1997) observed that about 98 percent of households own at least one television set.  The opportunity to watch the boob tube becomes even greater as some houses have TV sets in their child’s bedroom. Consequently, the availability of television in many homes affect the children’s viewing hours. The research shows that children between the ages of 12 to 15 spend at least 2.5 to 3.2 hours everyday in front of the TV. This means that on a weekly basis, 24.5 hours are spent watching various television shows and programs (Lander, 1997).

These figures post a good answer to the question why should media be an integral part of the classroom. The mere fact that children are spending valuable hours in front of the TV monitor justifies the very reason why it should be used at schools.

Apart from viewing habits, it should also be noted that media impresses a much deeper effect on the mental development and experiences of children. In “Media and Learning: New Dimensions”, Bipasha Choudhury (2007) stated that media presents a great potential to influence how an individual perceives the world. Its ubiquity makes it a dominant part of a person’s learning process (Choudhary, 2007, p. 1). Richard Collins (1992), also mentioned that a child’s “consumption of television, radio, press or cinema… involves the acquisition and understanding of knowledge outside their daily common experience” (Collins, 1992, p. 58). This means that children can use media not only as a means for entertainment but more importantly as a vehicle that can help them have a better understanding of the outside world.

Social Cognitive Theory

The relationship between the effectiveness of media as a teaching tool and the student’s ability to learn from it can be explained using the social cognitive theory.  According to Bandura (2001), learning as well as behavioral change are influenced by three factors: the environment, people, and behavior. The theory contends that an individual’s behavior is uniquely determined by each of these factors (Bandura, 2001, p. 26).

The social cognitive theory also uses different determinants or concepts which constantly influence behavior and learning. This includes observational learning, behavioral capability, and outcome expectations.

1.      Observational Learning

According to Bandura, (2001) observational learning is the behavioral acquisition that occurs by watching the action and outcomes of other’s behavior. He identified three basic models of observational learning. This includes a live model or an actual individual demonstrating the behavior, a verbal instructional model which involves descriptions and explanations of a behavior, and a symbolic model or fictional characters displaying the behavior in television or other types of media (Bandura, 2001 pp. 1-26).

2.      Behavioral Capability

Behavioral capability is one of the determinants in social cognitive theory. It is defined as the knowledge and the skill to perform a given behavior (Bandura, 2001 pp. 1-26). In this case, behavioral capacity would include a child’s improved academic performance after being exposed to several educational progrmans.

       3.  Outcome Expectations

Outcome expectation is the perceived positive and negative consequences of a behavior. The             observer’s behavior can be affected by the positive or the negative consequences— called the vicarious         reinforcement and the vicarious punishment— of the model’s behavior.

Television and Education

            There is no denying that television is a powerful medium for entertainment (Hinds, 1991, p. 118). However it should also be noted, that this same medium also proves to be equally powerful and effective when it comes to teaching and conveying information.

            Perception about TV’s effectiveness as an educational tool was not always favorable. During the 1980’s social science researchers suggested that watching television is but a cognitively passive experience for young children. A study conducted by Jerome Singer (1980) entitled “The Power and Limits of Television: A Cognitive-Affective Analysis, suggested that the images and sounds produced by the television would only interfere with the cognition skills of the child. This means that the sounds and images that a child sees on television only bombards the brain which then prohibits it from acquiring information (Singer, 1980, pp. 31-65).

            However, studies made by David Anderson and Elizabeth Lorch (1986) showed various evidences that children pay very close attention to the program content. According to the study, “children are capable of engaging in a variety of inferential activities while watching television” (Anderson and Lorch, 1986, p. 239).

This research opened the floor for other studies that suggest that exposure to age- appropriate program designed with an educational approach can maximize a child’s full learning potential (Kirkorian et. al, 2000 p. 46).

The following years saw television as an educational tool. The success of programs such as Sesame Street and other educational cartoons only showed that television can help develop a child’s cognitive skill. The visuals as well as the sounds encourage the child to imitate simple alphabet sounds. The actions they see on television also teach kids how to dance.  Similarly, other programs such as Dora the Explorer and Blues Clues help build their vocabulary and comprehension skill. In fact, research revealed that preschoolers who view Sesame Street displays a “higher level of school readiness that those who don’t” (Kirkorian et. al, 2000 p. 50).

Table 1: Popular TV Programs for Children

TV Show                                           Description                                              Network

Sesame Street                                    Utilizes puppets, songs, and animations         PBS

 that tackles the letter of the alphabets and

numbers among many others.

Dora the Explorer                              Utilizes bilingual language. It is also             PBS

                                                           interactive as the main character

                                                           constantly encourages the viewers

                                                           to help her solve simple

                                                           directional problems.

Blue’s Clues                                       An interactive program that                       Nickelodeon

                                                           Involves a host asking the audience

                                                           to solve simple mysteries.

Apart from teaching young children and toddlers, television can also be used to educate teenagers and adults. Science on Air is an example that television can also be utilized to teach complicated subjects such as science. This educational program which aired on July 1990 tackled interesting topics such as the Amazon region, nuclear waste problem, medical and health issues, and the rain forest of China among many others.

As these mainstream programs prove to be successful, more and more schools and universities are adopting this medium as part of their curriculum. In fact, several case studies convey the effectiveness of television in communicating information as well as developing the student’s eagerness to learn.

The case study “Using Entertainment Television to Educate” (Hinds, 1991, p. 117- 126) showed that television can be effectively utilized to rouse the interest of the students. Banking on the television’s entertainment value, the author combined education with the concept of interactive television to teach the students about the history of Pennsylvania. This resulted in a game show type format, which was entitled The Pennsylvania Game.

 In order to create more interest, the game included a portion wherein the audience could participate easily. During its first few months of broadcast, the educational game showed garnered favorable reviews from the audience when it comes to entertainment and informative aspect. The result of this case study, only shows that television can be constructed and produced so that it will stimulate learning while maintaining its entertainment factor (Hinds, 1991, p. 126).

            Although television as a teaching tool proves to be effective, there are still some aspects to consider in order to maximize the full benefit of educational media. Aspects such as attention, comprehension, and the repetition (Kirkorian, Wartella, Anderson, 2008 p. 44) will help the program become more efficient and effective.

            A child’s attention should be one of the top aspects to consider. Remember that a child will only learn from television if it is willing to pay attention. Thus, producers and researchers must constantly find ways to keep a child’s attention focused on the program. This may be done by exploring the various angles and camera shots in order to redirect a child’s attention.

            Comprehension also plays an important role in educational programs. It is imperative that the content is not only informative but it should also be easy enough for the viewer to understand it. This means that it should be age-appropriate in order for the child to fully comprehend the topic or subject.

            Repetition is another important aspect that will make a program more effective. This is because repetition can help the child remember and store the images and learning that he or she has acquired. Re-runs and replays of episodes can help a child comprehend the topic better. Studies reveal that children who watched the same episode of Blues Clues show an increase in interaction and participation.

Radio

            Unlike television, radio as a teaching tool is relatively new in the education sector. However, it is now making waves with the introduction of community radio system. The name community radio comes from the fact that this medium is primarily designed to serve the members of a particular community. The radio becomes the main vehicle that creates the public sphere as individuals are given the opportunity to air their districts concerns and issues.

The good thing about community radio is that it has a direct target audience. Any listener within the range of five to ten kilometers can tune in and familiarize themselves with the issues of the local community (Choudhury, 2007 p. 62).

            In the Philippines, community radios are mostly used by farmers settled in rural areas. They are mainly utilized by the local community to air out important messages and information regarding their livelihood. There are also various programs that educate farmers about various agricultural methods and other farming techniques.

            Community radio is also popular in Australia. Operated by the locals, Australia’s community radio provides air space for individuals with independent voices. It is popularly used as an alternative to commercial radio. Unlike its commercial counterpart, this type of media medium is used to voice out important issues and topics. The study entitled “Creating an Australian Community Public Sphere: The Role of Community Radio” (Meadows, Forde, Jacqui, and Foxwell, 2005, p. 171) showed that the community radio in Australia acts as the “citizen media” as it forms a community public sphere that gives helpful and substantial information in the local community.

            In India, community radio is used by the rural poor who do not have any access to the new media sphere. Thus, this tool acts as an essential means to empower their society’s marginalized group. In the research “Remote Audiences Beyond 2000, (Jayaprakash, 2000 p. 13) the author explored the effectiveness of radio in helping a remote indigenous community in South India to cope with the changing media environment through various radio programs.

            Community radio may also prove to be helpful not only in voicing out the community’s concern but also in improving the lives of the people. In the study, “Bridging the Digital Divide: Community Radio’s Potential for Extending Information and Communication Technology Benefits to Poor Rural Communities in South Africa”, (Eronini, 2007, p. 335), the author explored the potentials of radio is a medium that could be used to extend information and communication benefits to the entire community.

            In England, community radio is primarily used for campaign programs for literacy. Through its programs, this community radio teaches disadvantage communities to improve basic communication skills such as public speaking and listening (Radio Regen, 2007 p. 1).

            The impact of radio as a medium for education and information is without a doubt, useful to local communities. Its ability to create a public sphere proves that it has a massive impact in the betterment of a community.

Internet

Some 30 years ago, the word Internet was something that is unheard of. Communication, business, commerce, as well as education took place only through traditional means. By the early 1990s however, Tim Berners-Lee introduced the World Wide Web, and the world was never the same again. Communication and information took a different level with the presence of the Internet. Personal communication became a lot faster and more efficient. Similarly, gathering vast amounts of data would require only a fraction of second. With just a simple mouse click users are given access to a wide range of information unimaginable during an earlier age.

This new media medium is changing the world by the minute. From communications and business up to news and information, the Internet has indeed proven its value to the modern world.

 Now, this powerful tool is taking a new role as it conveys its presence in educational institutions. Various schools and universities in different parts of the world are now seeing the Internet as a powerful tool that can be used for teaching. Apart from this, the Internet is now seen as a vehicle that can prepare the students in this technological and digital age. In the book “The Teacher’s Complete and Easy Guide to the Internet”, Ann Heide (1996) noted that since the Internet is playing an ever increasing role in the modern life, it is only essential that the students learn how to “access, analyze, and communicate electronic information effectively”(Heide, 1996, p. 18).

There are now numerous studies and researches that relate the many benefits of using this technology in teaching. One of them is the Internet’s capacity to provide an immense amount data and information that can be used for learning.

In the study “University of Botswana Undergraduates Uses of the Internet: Implications on Academic Performance, the author related the potential of this technology to foster as well as improve the learning process. Using about 300 student respondents, the author examined the effects of using the Internet in the academic performance of undergraduate students. Results reveal that majority of the respondents who used the Internet showed a significant improvement in their academic performance.

Similarly, the Internet can also be used to facilitate distant learning. Before the rise of emails and instant messaging, lectures and reports were sent only through snail mail. A single correspondent, for instance, would take about three to five days before it can be received.  This method, although effective, proves to be slow and time consuming. The student’s ability to learn is limited and dependent to the notes delivered by the professor.

Fortunately, the technologies such as emails, chats, and instant messages revolutionized the way that distant learning is conducted. The traditional documents and static learning materials became more interactive and interesting. Apart from this, the notes are received as soon as they are delivered. This makes learning faster and more efficient.

Consequently, the presence of chat lines, emails, conference, and video calls make learning more interactive. Similar to a traditional classroom setting, the student can also participate and ask questions to the teacher online.

The Internet as an educational tool also offers accessibility and convenience. Unlike its traditional counterpart, the World Wide Web offers the students the freedom to gather data conveniently and with fewer hassles. The students can access the Internet anywhere and anytime they want. Instead of hitting the libraries, students can simply go to online libraries and other educational sites.

The Internet’s convenience and accessibility feature are particularly beneficial to students with physical and social disability. In the article “Media and Learning: New Dimension”, the author stated that the advent of technology, allowed physically challenged student to forget about their physical barrier (Choudhury, 2007. p. 64).  This means that students who are differently-abled can still enjoy that freedom brought by learning.

Learning through the Internet proves not only effective but entertaining as well. The convergence of videos and music allows the student to learn and enjoy at the same time. Hard subjects such as science or history can also be made more interesting and appealing. Educational videos and clips can now be easily access through a variety of sites.

Along with the benefits brought by the Internet in education, it is also important that educators and teachers consider several aspects that will improve this powerful educational tool.

Having trained teachers and professors is one of the main things that should be addressed in online learning. Although face to face interaction between the student and the teacher will be eliminated, it is still essential that the teacher possesses a certain degree of knowledge when it comes to online teaching. Technological skills are very important as this will help the educator teach better.

Censorship and control are also two essential characteristics that should be considered. The Internet, along with its vast educational sites also includes inappropriate contents. Thus, children and teenagers who would access the Internet must have parental supervision. Parents as well as teachers should guide and monitor students against offensive and inappropriate materials.

Lastly, there should be an equality of technology among schools and other educational institutions. Both private and public school students should have an equal opportunity to access and learn from this new media medium.

Conclusion

            Indeed, the media plays a very significant role in today’s educational system. Day in and day out, millions of people from different parts of the globe use at least one form of media daily. With the people’s ever increasing attachment to media, it is but fitting to study, learn, and integrate it in our curriculum.

Television, radio, as well as the Internet plays an intrinsic role in the development of a child’s cognitive skills and mental development. This paper has also thoroughly showed the benefits as well as aspects where these three media mediums could be improved.

            Television, being one of the most popular forms of media can be utilized for learning. As mentioned, this medium can affect a child’s mental growth and development through its images and sounds. Similarly, television can also be used to stimulate a child’s eagerness to learn.

            On the other hand, radio is an efficient tool that can be used to disseminate information within a specific community. Community radios are especially designed to empower the listeners by creating a public sphere.

            Dubbed as the new media, the Internet an educational tool, offers flexibility, accessibility, convenience, and efficiency. This media form is an integral part of distant learning. Through chat lines and electronic mails, learning and studying becomes more efficient.  The internet is also beneficial to physically disabled individuals as it allows them to learn regardless of their physical limitation.

The texts, sounds, and images that a child encounters from these mediums become the foundation of his or her experience of the world. Consequently, this acquired knowledge and information will ultimately prepare and shape the child to be competent and well equipped.

            As the media becomes a stable part of the educational system, it is of foremost importance that the educators will not just simply use the medium. Instead, teachers should also know how to read and fully understand the texts in the medium. Media education should be earnestly practiced as this will help the student understand and critically screen the information he or she has received.

            Using media mediums as teaching aid is also one way of utilizing the power of media in education. Teachers and professors can use video clips, movies, and informative videos to help them demonstrate a subject or topic.

            Similarly, parents should also take an active participation in media literacy.  Parents should regularly supervise and monitor the programs that their children are watching. Likewise, they should also be on guard with offensive sites in the Internet.

            Understanding and learning more about literacy is also one way by which parents can help their children. By simply equipping themselves with information they can effectively assist and teach children about media literacy.

            Television producers and media practitioners also play an essential part in the campaign for education and media literacy. Media practitioners should create more programs and showcases informative and educational content. The shows however, should not only be limited to young children. Instead, educational programs that cater to teenagers and adults should also be produced.

            Equally, the government should take its place in this issue. There should be an all out support and campaign that advocates the fusion of media in classrooms. Support should primarily be given to underprivileged schools and institutions. It could come in the form of financial help, improved of multi-media facilities and amenities, and government sponsored trainings and workshops for teachers and students among many others.  This way, the students can also enjoy the positive benefits of educational media.

            Lastly, media scholars should continue their studies about the role, effects, and importance of media as a teaching tool. Media scholars should explore and further examine the different ways by which media can be improved so that its full benefits could be enjoyed and realized.

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