The intention is palpable, the results not so much - the Ombudsman's inquiry into the state of media education in schools
In the Ombudsman's view, there are not enough qualified media teachers in schools, understanding media is not a discipline in its own right in the National Core Curriculum (NCC), the specified number of classes and the professional contents are but recommendations, handling online abuse and the dangers of the internet are not dealt with. As a first step, the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights has requested the Minister of Human Capacities to commission a comprehensive study assessing and analyzing the efficiency of media education, to introduce specialized teacher training with a curriculum also covering the topic of fending off online abuse.
In the course of his ex officio investigation, László Székely reviewed how students could be prepared, without increasing the number of mandatory classes, for the responsible use of the internet and the media, and how they could be protected from harmful contents. In his comprehensive report the Ombudsman pointed out that our children can understand the digital world they live in only if they are capable of thoughtfully and critically assess the information they hear and see; to put it another way, in this world of ours, built on electronic media, the internet and the everyday use of IT tools, one cannot stress enough the significance of teaching to understand media.
Media literacy, in principle, has been present in the National Core Curriculum (NCC) incorporated into the discipline of visual culture, for all age groups, since 2013. However, understanding media is not a discipline in its own right and, in most cases, it is taught by teachers with no corresponding qualification. Students, in principle, may gain comprehensive media knowledge; however, the professional contents, the requirements and the set of objectives specified in the NCC, in practice, reflect some external, formal expectations where the number of classes and the professional contents function as mere recommendations.
The Commissioner for Fundamental Rights requested wide-ranging information from the competent Ministry and the major civil society organizations and professional associations active in the field. The responses received show that the timeframe dedicated to transferring knowledge on media and the digital realm is not fully utilized, and the development of creative, practical skills is not duly reflected in the local curricula. Therefore, the time spent on and the professional contents of media education are haphazard, contingent on the decision of the school or the given teacher. Only 20–30 percent of media teachers have professional qualification, and, due to the absence of mandatory directives, media knowledge is taught today by teachers who are interested in or charged with doing it, qualifications or actual knowledge (or the lack thereof) notwithstanding.
It is recorded in the report that, due to the low number of classes, the regular merging of study groups, the selection of outdated teaching methods and the small number of competent teachers, fostering media consciousness falls by the wayside in the educational system – for the time being only intention is palpable, the results not so much. The system of training teachers does not cover knowledge on the dangers of the internet, the phenomenon of and the ways of handling online abuse – it is not set forth as a development goal by the NCC, either. The Ombudsman considers it a major problem because children, in many cases, are not aware of the ever more frequent occurrence of the phenomenon of online abuse, they do not have information on those organizations and authorities that could help them react to abuse and process traumas suffered while browsing the net.
From all this, the Commissioner, who is also responsible for the protection of the rights of the child, has drawn the conclusion that the systemic problems, the lack of competent and qualified teachers, the contradictory and incomplete transfer of knowledge about teaching to understand media present the imminent danger of an impropriety in connection with the children's right to protection, care and education.
László Székely has requested the Minister of Human Capacities to initiate a comprehensive study assessing the state of domestic media understanding education, and recommended the development of the professional knowledge and skills of educators and an increase in the number of qualified teachers. The Ombudsman has also requested to review the NCC's current set of objectives and the system of training teachers, so that knowledge related to the phenomenon of online abuse could be included therein as soon as possible.