Your child may be a 'functional illiterate' and there are people who try to avoid it | Trends

It would be surprising to say that the generation postmillennial it is, in its great majority, illiterate, given that it is the generation with the greatest access to the information that has existed in history. From the earliest age they have had, at the tip of their fingers, the possibility of learning about everything that is happening in the world, at all times. However, some experts warn that digital natives, far from being better informed than previous generations, are not only less but also worse informed. That is to say, they do not know very well what to think of everything they read on your mobile screen. What is reliable, what is false, what is advertising or interested material and what is a hard news. What they are reading because it really has relevance and what they read as a result of echoing their own preferences, visits and previous "likes". And this makes them functional illiterates in power.

A study of Stanford University it set off the alarms in 2016: the students of institute and university of EE UU not only did not understand well the difference between an announcement and a news; they were also easy victims of the grossest deceptions in the matter of false news, interested information and general rumor-mongering. They tended to give more credibility to the first result in a basic search on Google than the following, they did not know how to restrict searches to educational or scientific pages or to elucidate who is behind a web page of "serious and authorized" aspect. In summary: the more information available, the more likely that said information it is not reliable. And harder to unravel the one that is, the one that does not.

The study, directed by the Education teacher Sam Wineburg and conducted with questionnaires to almost 8,000 students of secondary and university education, raises a minimum level of civic reasoning (a mixture of critical ability and knowledge of the internet) to be a well-informed and decision-making citizen. And the authors of the study rated the situation with which they found themselves "pretty black". A majority of the young people who answered the questionnaire showed a very low level of discernment.

And all this, in a context in which the sophistication of those who try to pollute is increasing every day: from web pages of pressure groups disguised as scientific information to sponsored content concealed as a report, passing through the most crude manipulations of photographs (margaritas deformed that supposedly they grow near the Fukushima power station) or affirmations of data on Twitter that come from interested sources and seem official. Most of the respondents accepted these examples as true information without considering where they came from or how much evidence they contributed.

The deceptive feeling that digital natives they control The world of technology hides a very different reality: they are skilled in the management of apps and of the internet, they know how to do more sophisticated searches than those of their elders and they have an evident dexterity when it comes to understanding, at a glance, how to deal with social networks. But that does not mean that they know how to process what they are seeing. "Just because I can back out of my garage with a cappuccino in my hand in my car does not mean I know how the engine works," explains Sam Wineburg, the study's author, to EL PAÍS RETINA. "It's one thing to know how to handle something and another understand what is behind"

But Wineburg does not want his studio to be interpreted as a jerk to a lazy or undocumented generation. "You can not put the responsibility on students. Nobody has taught them to make those distinctions. The study programs have remained the same while we have experienced the greatest revolution in the way of receiving and processing information since the time of Gutenberg. And still many teachers spend more time protecting their students from the Internet than incorporating the Internet to all subjects, teaching them to understand it and to use it well. "

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It does not help that it is a generation that has abandoned reading the traditional press or the search for information on TV or radio news in favor of social networks. "When I was a teenager, the only way you had to find out what happened was by reading a newspaper or listening to the radio or watching television. And the ads were clearly differentiated from the information. The situation is very different today: today it is necessary to teach these things, give young people the tools to be able to discern, "explains Dámaso Reyes, of News Literacy Project, the NGO that has been bringing education about the media to the classroom for ten years.

When Reyes started working for them it was a small and little known organization. Today, after the 2016 elections and the impact it has had on American society to discover the probable influence of false news on the election result, the News Literacy Project arouses much more interest, receives many more donations and has the support of the major US media, from the New York Times to CNN (although they define themselves as "non-party", FOX News is not among them). "Suddenly everyone began to realize how important it was what we were doing," says Reyes, who is now responsible for alliances of the organization.

With this renewed impetus they have launched an ambitious platform of e-learning, Checkology, which sells to school districts and which provides, in the form of interactive and multimedia lessons, basic notions about the reception, preparation and broadcasting of news on the Internet. They start from the basis that any citizen who faces information on the Internet without basic training, which is not currently taught in public education, is a functionally illiterate, someone who can understand what he reads in the literal sense, but not its implications, origins or true importance. Its objective is to facilitate the media literacy of the new generations. Teach them to distinguish not only between an opinion piece or an informative piece, but also if a web page is offering disinterested information or has a lobby group behind it. Give tools to facilitate the digestion of a huge amount of information and categorize it according to its origin, credibility or relevance.

Direct impact

The Stanford study has had, at least up to now, a direct impact in California, where it has just passed a law to fund programs of "media literacy", although Wineburg himself thinks that the law is quite improvable. "Right now we are in a moment of chaos because the changes have been so rapid and so radical, and we have realized the problem very late. It takes a coordinated effort, a kind of Manhattan Project of education, and hundreds of studies, to analyze what works and what does not. "

Reyes and his colleagues travel the country recruiting journalists who want to join a huge database to offer classes in person or by videoconference in the classrooms that have completed the program. e-learning. One recent afternoon at the Bloomberg headquarters in Los Angeles, Reyes explained to a group of professionals the grossest and most sophisticated examples on the social networks of false news. From the affirmations with aspect of fact demonstrated that some personalities with many followers publish and turn out to be false (or are said in jest, but many take them at face value) to the photos with sharks swimming through the flooded streets of Houston or Michelle Obama holding a banner that says The immigrants have taken my job. All of them viral. Or, even, videos in which former President Obama goes out saying things he never said thanks to video manipulation software that are almost professional. These videos are called Deep fakes. And presumably, each day they become more difficult to detect.

As the ramifications of false news on the Internet become known, other initiatives arise News literacy now, a lobby that seeks the creation of educational programs that deal with this issue, or platforms as Firstdraft that help the journalists themselves to discern the reliability of their sources (especially in all cases of citizen journalism or material generated by the users that arrives at the newsrooms). Interestingly, with financial support from Google News or Facebook Journalism Project and Twitter. In Spain we have Damn Bulo (in RETINA we talked to them) That deals with unmasking the lies that circulate through the networks. Small granites of sand in the immense mountain of information generated daily.

Dámaso Reyes, from the News Literacy Project, does not despair. Although sometimes the students with whom he meets continue to leave hallucinated, as when some cited the movie Selma as a historical source. He believes that projects like his can also be used to recover lost luster in the face of traditional media and, even more important, to turn some into readers who value information to the point of paying for it again.

"Yes, we noticed that after doing our media education modules, students are more interested in the media. They understand that there is a whole team and standards behind the selection of the news on that page, and they understand the advantages of being an active reader of information. The press has been for more than 100 years the only guardian of the information that reached the citizens, "Reyes argues. Now that the fourth power, whose authority was taken for granted, has been so severely depleted, organizations like yours need to raise the amazing idea that the media of all life are, oh surprise !, a good source of information.


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