List of Workshops Reports 2009
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Workshop Report 2009

Workshop Number: 139

Workshop Title: The challenges of becoming literate to foster participatory cultures

Report by: Lee Hibbard

Workshop description and list of panelists:
Millions of people are using the Internet throughout the world today. The Internet has an enormous potential for improving the quality of life of its users in many different ways. Promotion of Internet literacy is vital for societies that depend on digital information. A number of projects are aiming to promote Internet literacy among the population, especially for children.

But what are the risks of using the Internet without having previously acquired the appropriate skills and knowledge? How can individuals be trained to use the Internet? What should the role of different stakeholders be? The workshop will search for answers to these questions.

Samy Tayie, Professor of Public Relations and Advertising, Faculty of Mass Communication, Cairo University, Egypt;
Ibrahim Saleh, Officer of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS);
Sheba Mohammed, Policy Analyst, Trinidad and Tobago;
Malte Spitz, European Youth Forum;
Andrew McIntosh, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe;
Hosein Badran, Regional Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Distinguished Systems Architect, Cisco Systems International, Egypt;
Yasser Kazem, Director of the E-Learning Competence Center (ELCC) of the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT) Egypt;
Ahmed Hefnawy, Converging Services Manager, National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA), Egypt;
Nevine Tewfik, Director, Cyber Peace Initiative, Egypt;
Divina Frau-Meigs, Dynamic coalition on media education;
Lee Hibbard, Council of Europe

The actors involved in the field; various initiatives that people can connect with, and contacts for further information:
- Dynamic Coalition for Media Literacy
- Cyber Peace Initiative
- World Summit on Media for Children and Youth, June 2010, Karlstad, Sweden

A brief substantive summary and the main issues that were identified:
1. The challenges and risks to users were considered from a variety of regional perspectives. This examination showed that there were differences between developed countries and developing ones, in their understanding of risks and challenges. For the MENA region, issues of access and dependency on foreign content were a major concern. The imbalance was also felt in the Caribbean area as well as the Latin American region: some cultures are downloading cultures whereas others are uploading cultures. So participation in the culture of the digital networks is crucial for providing regional and national content. These challenges were less felt by the European region contributors: media rich in content and access, they were more concerned with inclusion and media rights in the context of human rights (freedom of expression, privacy, dignity,…).

But in spite of these differences, there was a general perception that, for Internet to become a tool for empowerment, there was a need to prevent the digital world from becoming a source of alienation as there are risks of loss of identity and addiction, not to mention spam and unsolicited marketing, as well as risks of content becoming only entertainment-driven. The general consensus was that there was a need to foster participation in the digital networks, combining it with the protection of young people from harmful content and with state provision of quality content to ensure that people engage with the media and feel motivated to contribute in ways that make sense to their personal needs. Becoming e-literate was also perceived as a means of creating trust in the media in regions where there is a lot of malaise about the media, as they are perceived as too dependent either on the State or on Corporate interests.

2. The e-competences needed for effective participation in digital cultures were discussed within the larger context of media literacy. The Internet was considered as part of the media family, with a specific function, interactivity, leading to participation and citizenship enhancement. Becoming literate with Web 2.0 technologies was considered as a turning point in media literacy, because of the possibilities of putting the learner at the centre of the process, with tools and platforms that foster user-aggregated content. There was a general feeling that letting young people use the media was not enough. The e-competences identified by most participants, especially young people, focused around the need to understand and master processes of navigation, search and retrieval, mixing and remixing of data, collaborative production, joint-authorship, etc.

This implied also considering the human rights that were solicited by such processes and activities. Freedom of expression was mentioned, together with privacy, intellectual property and child protection. It was however perceived that e-competences had to be promoted as “self-competences” that could have an impact on lifelong learning and critical knowledge acquisition. Such self-competences were seen as one of the best filters again harmful content as well as a means to foster motivation in participation as well as trust in the digital media.

3. The different stakeholders made proposals as to their role in empowering individuals, within an Internet governance framework. There was a sense of urgency as people imagined the worst-case scenarios, such as doing nothing to foster e-literacy. Besides those who worried that Google use would be e-literacy by default, people considered other options: becoming literate might help some countries leap-frog into participatory cultures; becoming e-literate might happen while being illiterate… The Internet governance framework was solicited so as to foster a global feeling of sustainability and solidarity around media literacy, each region benefiting from the sharing of experiences with others. Multi-stakeholder partnerships were considered as vital for scaling up and many examples were mentioned.

The representatives of governments and states agreed that media literacy should be promoted bottom-up and not top-down, by persuading operators and legislators to showcase the best practices and the existing communities of practice, so as to reach young people and adults alike. Business representatives, providers and operators, recognized their crucial role in providing easy and cheap access to the full web experience; they also insisted on their capacity to raise awareness about media literacy issues, especially among young people. Civil sector representatives, educators and NGO members, insisted on the need to move from access to active use, and to integrate the recent developments in mobile telephony, so as to embed e-competences more deeply in the daily practices of young people.

Conclusions and further comments:
This workshop, co-organized by the Dynamic Coalition on Media Education, Cyber Peace Initiative, UNDP Egypt's ICT Trust Fund and the Council of Europe, was very well attended and many contributions of value came from the floor as well as from the panellists, with noted comments from youth representatives. It examined the challenges and risks of using the Internet without having previously acquired the appropriate skills and knowledge. It then discussed the meaning of those e-competences in order to foster effective participation on the digital networks. It concluded with a common examination of the role of different stakeholders.

The three convenors of the workshop wrapped up the major conclusions and suggestions for future action:

-connect with human rights and issues of respect, dignity, freedom of expression and privacy
-connect with e-learning and emerging issues of cross-literacy and media convergence
-connect with policy-making, within a global Internet governance framework
-raise awareness for media literacy, with initiatives like the Dynamic Coalition for Media Literacy or the Cyber Peace initiative
-provide assessment tools, benchmarking frameworks, public policy solutions, private-civic-public experiments.
...End of Report...

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