UNESCO shares its work on media and information literacy at UN HLPF side-events

UNESCO's Guy Berger with Finland education minister Li Andersson

The list of competencies to be a global citizen could do well to include Media and Information Literacy (MIL), a meeting heard this week, taking place on the margins of the UN's High Level Political Forum to review progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This message on MIL came from Guy Berger, UNESCO director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development, and was delivered at a side event organised by Finland and Fiji, in partnership with NGOs Fingo and Bridge 47, as well as UNESCO Category 2 Centre, the Asia-Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU.

Berger told the audience about UNESCO's Global Citizenship Education in the fields of prevention of violent extremism, the holocaust and genocide, and on the rule of law.

"When there is rising hatred, xenophobia and gender discrimination, as well as anti-science, all being promoted through disinformation, we see an urgency in integrating MIL in Global Citizens Education," said Berger. This applied especially to building the understanding of young people about the workings of social media platforms, he added.

Berger drew the meeting's attention to MIL as providing a synergy between SDG 4.7 on global citizenship education and 16.10 on public access to information and fundamental freedoms.

Speaking at the same event was Finland's Minister of Education, Li Andersson, who made her point by using the analogy that people decide to act urgently if their house catches fire. "Our planet is burning and we have to put out the flames as soon as possible", she stated, elaborating that becoming active started with education and training.

In further remarks, the Minister described quality education as a safeguard against exclusion because of its role as a powerful equaliser.

SDG 4 should guide investment in both formal and informal education, and while this requires money, "we cannot afford the costs of not investing".

At a different side-event at the HLPF, UNESCO's Berger elaborated on MIL's relevance to the role of digital technology in advancing the SDGs.

"The more intelligent digital machines become, the more digitally intelligent humans need to be. And the competencies we need should also include an understanding of how society is developing and using digital technology," he stated.

His input was part of an event titled "A Framework for Digital Literacy, Skills and Readiness", hosted by the DQ Institute, IEEE SA and World Economic Forum.

Berger was responding to an initiative called the DQ Global Standards Report 2019, and related steps being taken towards an IEEE Global Standard for Digital Intelligence. The DQ model includes digital security, digital safety, digital emotional intelligence, and digital identity amongst other competency categories.

"UNESCO's umbrella of competencies under MIL includes digital competencies, while DQ's concept of digital intelligence presents certain MIL competencies within its wider list of digital skills," he noted. However, Berger proposed, there was value in focusing not on the differences in nomenclature for the field, but rather on what specific competencies are increasingly required in a changing world.

Within the framework of the SDGs, the meeting deliberated what everyone may need as jobs change and society transforms, but also examined the question of supporting knowledge and skill for the billions of people who would become connected in a relatively short term.

Berger said that SDG 16.10 inclusion of "fundamental freedoms" as a target signaled a human-rights dimension, meaning therefore that this should be an important part of digital competencies relevant to sustainable development.

As an example, knowledge about the right to equality could help people assess digital voice assistants, said the director, pointing to the recent UNESCO study "I'd blush if I could", in which underlying biases in the technology are exposed.

In further elaboration, Berger highlighted the importance of digital competencies not focusing exclusively on being competitive in the digital economy, but as also encompassing the know-how to co-operate - such as was needed to defend and promote human rights in digital space.

"It is not realistic to expect people to learn how to successfully protect their data as atomised individuals; they need the knowledge and skill to come together effectively, as consumers and citizens, and call for privacy measures at the institutional and societal level".

Berger concluded by explaining that digital competencies could enable knowledge of the four key principles highlighted by UNESCO's ROAM framework - namely, Rights, Openness, Accessibility and Multistakeholder participation.

"If digital competences are to be comprehensive, they should include knowledge of all these, and they should especially empower people as stakeholders in digital governance".

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