Start teaching young students media literacy

Secondary school students leaving the parade square after assembly.
Secondary school students leaving the parade square after assembly.PHOTO: ST FILE

As a student and aspiring journalist, I do not believe that the recently passed Protection of Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Pofma) is the best way to tackle the problem of fake news.

As Singaporeans, we pride ourselves on having a world-class education system. So perhaps the solution to fake news can be found in the classroom.

Secondary school students are taught critical thinking skills during their humanities classes, such as how to corroborate sources and interpret cartoons. However, the sources examined in these classes often come from traditional media, such as newspapers and print magazines.

In traditional media, content typically must go through an editor before it is published, in the interests of ensuring minimal errors and misinformation. But the vast majority of online content is not fact-checked at all. Digital technology allows users to manipulate content like photos and videos easily.

If our lawmakers are so concerned with online falsehoods, why not include new media sources to the school curriculum?

In Finland, schools are pioneering this approach to combat fake news. According to recent reports, students in Finland aged 15 to 16 are taught to examine claims they find in YouTube videos and social media posts. They learn to compare media biases in different articles, and the impact misinformation has on readers.

I'm glad to hear that Singaporean representatives have travelled to Finland to learn more about this curriculum.

Classes on basic journalism could also pave the way to a more media-literate Singapore. By learning the rigorous standards by which journalists source information, we might more easily spot sloppy writing or baseless claims.

Pofma may hinder the spread of fake news, but a more sustainable objective would be to rob fake news of its power over readers in the first place.

The better solution would be to pave the way to media literacy in Singaporeans from young.

Megan Tan Yun Xuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2019, with the headline 'Start teaching young students media literacy'. Print Edition | Subscribe