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					    Youth Media and Media Education as Agents of Social Transformation

                                Lee Rother, Ph.D.

A paper presented at the Democratic Practices as Learning Opportunities Conference

                              November 4 – 5, 2005

               The Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation
                     Teachers College Columbia University
                                   New York

For the last twenty-nine years I have been teaching Media Education to at-risk teenagers
in an alternative program in a high school situated thirty kilometers north of Montreal.
By at-risk I am referring to teenagers who struggle with conventional educational
environments and practices and/or demonstrate behavioural difficulties.

For most of my teaching career the kind of Media Education curricula I have taught has
involved at-risk students in the production and analysis of mainstream media texts. My
experience has taught me that Media Education invites diverse groups of students such as
these into a learning environment that is familiar and comfortable. However, a „defining
moment‟ almost three years ago expanded my understanding of at-risk youth and the role
that Media Education might play in their lives.


From July to September 2003 I worked for two months at the Ministry of Education in
Amman, Jordan, on behalf of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA),
as a curriculum framework and learning outcome consultant. During my stay in Jordan I
had the opportunity to speak with literally hundreds of educators as well as observe
young Palestinian youth outside of a formal school.

A defining moment for me during my stay in Jordan, occurred not in Jordan but rather in
the West Bank city of Ramallah. I was invited by a Palestinian friend of mine to meet
with a group of fifteen teens and young adults who all belonged to the same youth group,
of which my friend was the director. The aim of the youth group was to create a
dialogue with their Israeli counterparts. Some of the youth had completed their
secondary schooling a few months previously; others were university students, and still
others were unemployed. What they all had in common, aside from being Palestinian,
was that they were either children, teens or born during the first Intifada and witnesses or
participants in the second uprising. Many were members of Arafat’s Fatah Movement.
Some had participated in violent confrontations with the Israeli military. Almost all of
them had stories about relatives and/or friends who had been or were imprisoned. All of
them were disenfranchised, angry and understandably depressed.

The dialogue between the youth and myself started slowly with the expected polite
introductions, followed by an overview of „situation‟ in the region and how it had
affected them personally. Then I asked, “So, what do you think about how the conflict is
reported in the Western media?” Suddenly, several hands went up all at once. Others
spoke openly, not patient enough to wait for someone to call upon them to speak. Not
unexpectedly, their response was,

       „The media lie. It‟s always from the Israeli point of view; they make us all
       look like terrorists. The news media don‟t make a distinction between
       „terrorists and Palestinians. When an Israeli is killed it‟s a tragedy. But
       when a Palestinian is killed its retribution.‟

I began to get the impression that the Western‟s media‟s construct of the „Palestinian
situation‟ was a topic they had either not spoken of at length before or at the very least
had not discussed in an open forum.

I was so caught up in my observations of the youth that I was taken off guard when they
asked me what Canadians thought of Palestinians. I explained that I could not speak for
all Canadians, only for myself. Still, I admitted that the images in television news media
indeed presented a negative image of, male, rock throwing Palestinian youth. I also
pointed out that such images of teenagers throwing rocks at armed Israeli soldiers seemed
to me like a Goliath versus David confrontation. I explained that I was not angry with the
teens themselves but rather with those Palestinian adults who encouraged them.
As the dialogue continued, I realized that they were not so much looking to get me to side
with the Palestinian cause, but rather were anxious to dispel stereotypes I may have
acquired through the Western media about the conflict and about the image of
Palestinians in particular.

In retrospect, I am not sure what I really expected to gain from meeting with the youth,
but the opportunity served to entice me with questions about the responsibility of the
local and international media in conflict areas and more importantly what role Media
Education with youth in such regions could have in developing critical viewers and
creators of news media.

As a result of speaking, listening and observing the youth in Ramallah, I now realize that
such settings offer unique opportunities for exploring how youth at risk, that in those in
regions of conflict, post conflict and/or developing countries, consume the media and
how the interaction of the situation in which they live develop young people‟s
understanding of media. I knew that in the near future I would have to find the means
and opportunity to get a clearer view of this phenomenon.


My opportunity came in July 2005. I and six other Canad ians were invited to participate
along with about eighty Palestinian educators in a conference titled Education,
Democracy, and Identity in Conflict Areas at the University of Bethlehem. Around the
same time, I learned about the Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership And Rights
Activation (PYALARA), a media youth organization located in the town of Ar-Ram, about
forty- five minutes drive from Bethlehem.

I decided that the close proximity of Bethlehem to Ar-Ram was too tempting to forgo the
opportunity to further tease my interest in youth media in the region. Through e- mail
correspondence I was able to convince the Director of PYALARA, Hania Bitar, to agree
to let me work with some of the young people involved in the organization. It just so
happened that PYALARA had recently embarked on a project, which originated from a
conference they co-sponsored in October 2004.

PYALARA was established in 1999 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the
Gaza strip. PYALARA aims to provide alternatives to young Palestinians that will help to
protect them from becoming marginalized or neglected by providing them with a
platform for expressing their views and dialoguing about their rights. In this way
PYALARA is able to channel and transform the energy of Palestinian youth into
constructive and proactive initiatives that contribute to democratic nation building.

During the second week of July, I led 12 youth in documentary filmmaking. The youth
came from several areas in the West Bank, including Ar-Ram, Ramallah, Jerusalem,
Hebron and Nablus. Some were enrolled in media studies/journalism and
communications at universities in the region such as Birzeit University in Ramallah and
Annajah National University in Nablus. Still others were in studies unrelated to media
such as sociology, economics and business.

In our first session I asked the youth their ideas of the image of Arabs in Western news
media. They echoed many of the things I heard from the youth in Ramallah three years
previous. We segued into a discussion of Arabs in mainstream Hollywood movies.
Some considered that Hollywood reinforced the image of Arabs as terrorists, especially
since 9/11. I decided to turn the question around. “So what‟s the image of Westerners
you have from the media of those in the West? Their answer, „Westerners are
self-centered. They are dominated by media‟.

Over the next week and a half, three teams produced three mini-documentaries. Each of
the productions, Living for the moment, I am a Palestinian and Dreams are born, reflect
the reality of the Palestinian Youth. I was glad to see that the youth did not completely
focus on the hardships of their existence, but rather their productions took on a more
constructive tone. That is, the themes and tones of the productions leaned toward peace
rather than conflict. PYALARA intends to distribute the productions locally, regionally
and internationally.

My work with the young people at PYALARA reinforced for me the importance of
Media Education as a tool for local and individual transformation that has the potential to
enable youth to make a positive and constructive impact on their communities and their
families. In doing so, youth media can then move toward making an impact at the
national and international levels.


Media Education as I am now thinking about includes the following characteristics:

        Social constructivist, i.e. based on shared social interaction and multi-
           discourse usage.
          An active and democratic practice.
          Providing youth with opportunities to engage in developing critical awareness
           of local and global issues.
          Developing involved, critical and informed citizens.
          Not limited to a specific definition but rather determined by population
           profile, country context, issues of power and opportunity.

I am starting to develop a notion of Media Education that has the „courage‟ to be located
in what Paulo Freire (1970) referred to in his native Portuguese as „conscientizacion‟,
translated in English as „education as critical consciousness”. Conscientizacion has also
been referred to by Freire as „education for transformation‟ and liberartory education‟
(Freire, 1970). In a later paper Shor and Freire (1987) expanded the term
„conscientizacion‟ to include „dialogic and pedagogy‟ and „empowerment education‟. In

other words, I am arguing for Media Education that is situated within a Freirian
framework and is intended to enable youth, especially those at risk, to move from a
position of victim to advocates of positive social change.

I do not claim that the approach described above is a new idea. However, my „defining
moment‟ with the youth in Ramallah and my experience at PYALARA had an impact on
my growth as a media educator. I realize now that the kind of Media Education I teach to
high school students and pre-service teachers at McGill University is two dimensional
and not the kind that I want to practice with youth in conflict. It just did not seem to be
enough - whatever that means. And I am not alone in the belief that youth media has
much to offer young people whose place of contributes to their being at risk.


In the last twenty years there has been an increase in interest in Media Education
worldwide. Actually, it seems common sense that there would be an interest in Media
Education on the local, national and international level, considering that:

          Half of the world‟s current population is under the age of thirty.
          Young people are the largest consumers of mass media.
          The mass media have enormous influence on the beliefs, ideas and bias of
           young people.
          Compared to just a few years ago, new media technologies are relatively
           inexpensive, less complicated and more portable.
          Media images are being taken as role models by youth. This is a major reason
           for the growing popularity of the reality genre both in developed and
           developing countries alike.
          Commercial and entertainment programming has become the mainstay of the
           media as a result of the proliferation of cable and satellite channels

At the International Symposium on Media Education at Grunwald, Federal Republic of
Germany, January, 1982, experts argued that the media are „omnipresent‟ and that an
increasing number of people spend a great deal of time interacting with media. The
authors went on to say that government agencies, educational systems, community
organizations and parents should not overlook the role of media in the process of personal
and social development, as well as instruments for an individual‟s active participatio n as
a citizen in society.

The outcome of the symposium was a concise declaration for the validity of Media
Education. Recommendations of the Grunwald Declaration included:

1. initiating and supporting comprehensive media education programs - from pre-school
to university level, and in adult education - the purpose of which is to develop the
knowledge, skills and attitudes which will encourage the growth of critical awareness
and, consequently, of greater competence among the users of electronic and print media.

2. developng training courses for teachers and intermediaries both to increase their
knowledge and understanding of the media and train them in appropriate teaching
methods, which would take into account the already considerable but fragmented
acquaintance with media already possessed by many students;

3. stimulating research and development activities for the benefit of media education,
from such domains as psychology, sociology, and communication science;

4. supporting and strengthening the actions undertaken or envisaged by UNESCO and
which aim at encouraging international co-operation in media education.‟

On November 20th 1989, the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the
Child. The Convention provides for all children (under 18 years) a comprehensive set of
economic, social, cultural and civil and political rights. It supports and legitimizes the
needs of children and provides a basis for their wellbeing. Its basic principles includes:

1. The best interests of the child should be a primary consideration in such decisions.

2. Opinions of children themselves should be heard.

3. Child development, not only survival, should be ensured.

4. Each child should be able to enjoy his/her rights, without discrimination.

On the tenth anniversary of the Convention of the Child in November 1999, UNICEF
with the support of the Norwegian Government, called upon governments, organizations,
and individuals working with youth, media professionals and industries, educators,
researchers and parents to initiate and develop programs, projects and studies of children
and media.

Since the late eighties UNESCO has sponsored several international conferences
including, New Directions in Media Education at Toulouse, France in 1990, followed by
conferences in Paris (1997), Vienna (Spring 2000), Sydney (2000), (add to these). Thus,
on the one hand it may be fair to say that many of the original Grunwald
recommendations have been addressed. Within the last few years UNICEF along with
several international agencies have created a website link to youth media around the
world (see

However, while there are many encouraging signs, Buckingham (2001) writes in Media
Education: A global strategy for development: A Policy Paper prepared for UNESCO,
“ In a developing field such as media education, diversity is to be expected; and a global
organization such as UNESCO is bound to respect and seek to preserve such diversity.
(Media Education) needs to begin from the perspectives and experiences of young people
themselves; and as such, it must take into account the needs and characteristics of their
communities and cultures.”


In fact, there is reason to be optimistic about the development of Media Education
worldwide, including Developing Countries, regions of conflict and post-conflict.

Sheila Kinkade and Christy Macy (2003) provide, in their paper What works in Youth
Media: Case Studies from Around the World, a sampling of youth media projects in
Mexico, China, Zambia, Albania, and Vietnam. Well known journalist Christiane
Amanpour writes in the forward to Kinkade‟s and Macy‟s paper that the programs
described, “ capitalize on young people‟s creativity, passion, and idealism, offering their
valuable perspectives on some of the most critical issues of our times – education, the
environment, human rights, child abuse, the growing divide between rich and poor, and
the impact of globalization” (p.5).

While youth media in Developing Countries and regions of conflict have made
significant advances, Media Education, at least in formal education settings, face
considerable challenges. Poverty, conflict and social unrest upset the normal lives and
development of children, of which formal education is a large part.

Tomlinson and Benefiled, 2005, state that half of the 104 million children who do not
attend primary schools live in countries of conflict or are recovering from conflict (p.1).
The same authors outline some of the challenges that face education in these countries:

          Schools, educators and students are targets of violence, which leads to
           destruction of infrastructure. (In July 2002, the Palestinian Ministry of
           Education reported that for the school year 2001 – 2002: 216 students were
           and seventeen teachers were killed, 2514 students were injured, 164 students
           and seventy-one teachers were arrested (see
          Lost schooling for the youth of conflict years results in a vulnerable society,
           affecting recovery and reconstruction.
          There is less investment in education during times of war.
          Fear and disruption are not conducive to learning.
          The legitimacy of governments and of their curricula is often suspect in times
           of conflict.
          The focus is on basic survival, not education;
          Schooling for large numbers of children during a crisis situation is costly in
           terms of money, time and labour. (p.6).

To these challenges the following can be included:

          Sustaining existing media youth programs is difficult, as there is often a
           reliance on funding from several donors. Youth media programs in
           Deeveloping Countries are competing for the same sources of funding.
          The transformation from emergency planning to strategic planning for the
           future is a long-term process.
          Levels of basic literacy in Developing Countries countries and conflict regions
           are often very low and thus seen as a deterrent to introducing not-traditional
           forms of learning and teaching.

          Gender issues in various countries make the notion of education for all
          Poor nations lack the basic resources such as textbooks, notebooks, pens,
           pencils and chalkboards.
          Technology considered in Western schools as „low tech‟ such as overhead
           projectors, is a luxury in places of conflict and poverty, even if electricity was
           available. „High tech‟ such as computers is more a dream that a hope.
          Drop out rates and limited access to educational services in poor countries is
           often very high.
          Staffing at educational institutions in conflict regions are inadequate and so
           little headway can be made in educational reform.
          Human, technological and financial resources at institutions of higher
           education in conflict regions are underdeveloped so that teacher training and
           research is lacking or non-existent.
          The digital generation divide within the developing countries is very stark.
           While the parents may not know how to operate a PC their children may be
           writing blogs. Therefore supervision in case of internet usage is low or
           minimal which is exposing the kids to a whole new world – desirable and
           undesirable both.
          Due to the poor standards of living and overall low per capita income, many
           households in Developing Countries have one TV per household.
           Consequently, children become passive consumers of the media being
           consumed by the adults.
          The internet is providing a mode of free expression in many Developing
           Countries on topics which are traditionally tabooed, thus resulting in
           resistance to Media Education from many adults in these regions.

The challenges to Media Education in impoverished countries suggest to me an obvious
point. That is, countries that do not have the economic and human resources and/or
infrastructures for basic education will understandably not be able to initiate nor sustain
Media Education curriculum.


Media Education initiatives within the settings discussed in this paper have a better
chance of taking root as community youth programs, suc h as in the example of
PYALARA described earlier. However, here too Media Education faces many
challenges, some of which are similar if not the same, as those described in the previous

I argue that Media Education intervention in Developing Countries must be grounded in
sound analysis and in grassroots or local communities. UNESCO‟s Development of a
plan of action for education: methodological brief (1997), may be a worthwhile
framework for such an analytical tool.

There is a need to develop strategic partnerships between different NGOs, educational
institutions, politicians, religious and professional groups, media professionals, etc,
whose aim is to:

          Move beyond policy statements and identifying activities to prioritizing the
           actions, activities, and required resources.
          Achieve a consensus on the concepts.
          Define a small number of general objectives, and following from these
          Identify a plan of action.
          Recruit and train of local people to deliver, support, and sustain community
           youth Media Education programs.

Of course the above plan of action is woefully incomplete. But then again, a tree is not a
tree until it breaks out from a tiny seed. We may one day look back upon the eighties
and nineties as a time when Media Education in Developing Countries broke out of its
seed. The next decade must enable Media Education, on an international level, to take

And yet, it is crucial to stress that Media Education as I argue for in this paper is in the
first instance is a tool for social transformation that begins at the individual and local
level. Too often we have a tendency to skip straight to the big picture, the national and
international, forgetting that the really powerful work starts at the individual level.


It is widely accepted that the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and
interdependent. Youth in the 21st century need to explore and understand the world
beyond local borders and the impact national actions have on the international level.

The questions that need to be answered are:

        What kinds of culture and intercultural understandings do youth in
           Developing Countries get from local and international media?

        What is the role for Media Education and youth media in helping youth in
           Developing Countries to construct these understandings?

I am convinced that Media Education has the potential for providing youth with the
opportunities for such an exploration.


Buckingham, D. and Domaille, K. 2004. Where are We Going and How Do We Get
There? In, Von Feilitzen, Cecilia and Carlsson, Ulla (eds).

Buckingham, David. 2001. Media Education: A global strategy for development. A
Policy Paper Prepared for UNESCO.

Convention on the Rights of the Child. November 20th 1989.

Development of a plan of action for education: a methodological brief .1997. Paris,

International Symposium on Media Education at Grunwald, Federal Republic of
Germany. Grunwald, Federal Republic of Germany, 22 January 1982.

Kellner, Douglas. Media Literacies and Critical Pedagogy in a Multicultural Society. (on
line publication;

Kinkade, Sheila and Macy, Christy. 2003. What works in Youth Media: Case Studies
from Around the World. International Youth Foundation.

Rother, Irving. 2000. The Impact of Media Literacy Curriculum on the Literate
Behaviour of At-risk Adolesccents, unpublished doctoral dissertation.

Tomlinson, K and Benefiled, P. 2005. Education and conflict: research and possibilities.
National Foundation for Educational Research.


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