A New School Subject: Media Education

By Angeliki Chatziefraimidou, Department of Media and Communication Studies, University of Vienna, Vienna

In this age of new media, children are exposed to social media and the internet at an early age. What can education do when mass media exerts such a great influence on children? One notable proposal that has been made is the introduction of a new school subject: media education. This article explains the elements of media education and underlines its importance in the school praxis.

An ‘Update’ in Education

In 2017, Ofcom (UK communications regulator) in their Media Use and Attitudes Report made public the statistics about young internet users. The results showed how many young people, 5-15 years old, are online and for how much time in a week:

  • 79% of young people 5-7 years old go online for around 9 hours a week.
  • 94% of young people 9-11 years old go online for nearly 13,5 hours a week.
  • 99% of young people 12-15 years old go online for nearly 21 hours a week.

These statistics show that social media and the internet are gaining an ever-greater influence on the life and environment of pupils.

There is a need for an “update” in education, which will make an impact in their lives. Consequently, media pedagogy should be integrated into education; not only in a theoretical framework, but also in school praxis.

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

In discussions on this topic many different terms are used: media pedagogy, media didactics, media education, media literacy. The media education policy decree of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture and UNESCO provide helpful definitions:

  • Media pedagogy: an umbrella term for all issues concerning the pedagogical importance of media in education, the functions and contents of media. It can be divided into Media didactics and Media education.
  • Media didactics: A subterm of media pedagogy that covers: what the media is tasked with in the teaching and learning process, how it attempts to achieve these goals and how it affects the total process and the final result both positively and negatively.
  • Media education: intends to teach critical thinking and evaluation of all online content. Media has become important for human information, entertainment and education, but not everything and everyone online is trustworthy. Pupils must learn to take everything in with a grain of salt.
  • Media literacy: the skills and knowledge that pupils acquire from Media education, which is the process of teaching and learning about media. In media literacy pupils learn how to “read” and “write” media.


Contents of Media Education

Media competence includes not only the knowledge to handle the technical part, but also the skills, such as the ability to handle personal and social relevance issues. Frau-Meigs (2007) from UNESCO made a completed proposal for the content of media education. The new school subject should consist of the following key concepts: “Production, Languages, Representations and Audiences” (Frau-Meigs, 2007, p. 25).

Languages: Media use different forms of language to convey ideas and meanings. It aims to help the pupil become familiar with media languages and the meaning they try to convey through the combination of words, images or sounds.

Representations: The information that the media convey about the world as true or important. The moral or political values as well as the information that is included and excluded from the media. The pupils need to learn about the acceptance or rejection of media representations.

Audiences: The approach, the understanding and the interpretation that users give to the meaning of the content (e.g. text, image, video) may change according to their intellectual level, interests, gender, social class, age and ethnic background.

Production: This section includes all the technologies that are used and the people that work together in order to produce media texts. The companies that buy and sell media and who control the production of media.

Pupils use Internet and need support on learning how to use it. Until now, it is unclear how each pupil learns to use the internet and new social media. In many schools, teachers ask them to find information online, but how can teachers empower the students’ safety in online surfing? How do they know where they can search for information? How can they develop a critical view in the information they find online? Through media education, children have a deeper understanding of the meanings and language that media use especially with the combination of images and sounds (languages). At the same time, pupils learn how to think critically and test the information they receive, and make decisions in order to accept or reject it (representations). Apart from that, pupils can develop an even better understanding about media content and that there is a change of interpretation from everyone’s view (audiences). Children make connections through new social media and the companies who control them (production). It is important for pupils to develop their own critical view in order to interpret the information they receive and protect themselves from any risk of harm.

Center of Media Literacy reports that in the past 20 years, several governments have introduced the media education curricula into primary, secondary and university levels of schooling. The United Kingdom, Finland, France, Hong Kong are some of the pioneers. The United States lags sadly behind these countries in media awareness education and literacy. There is no national program or curriculum there on media studies at the primary, secondary or university level.

In media there is a dual approach for the user, who sometimes has the passive role and sometimes the active role; sometimes is in a learner position, sometimes in a teacher position. This approach is needed also in media education. Children can interact with classmates, teachers and parents and together build media literacy. As centuries have gone by, society has evolved and changed with the integration of its newest generations. Allowing it to tackle the new challenges of our, ever increasingly, fast changing world. Just as society has changed, education must also evolve, if it is to stay relevant and able to equip children for their future lives. Not just as a system but as individuals. Parents, teachers and governments, who accompany children and teenagers in their development, need to change their attitudes. It’s time for an “update”.


Center of Media Literacy. (2018). What are Other Countries Doing in Media Education? URL: http://www.medialit.net/reading-room/what-are-other-countries-doing-media-education

Hart, A., & Süss, D. (Eds.). (2002). Media Education in 12 European Countries: A Comparative Study of Teaching Media in Mother Tongue Education in Secondary Schools. Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (2016). Media education – Mediamanual. URL: https://www.mediamanual.at/en/media.php

Frau-Meigs, D. (2007). Media Education. A Kit for Teachers, Students, Parents and Professionals (p. 186). Unesco.

Ofcom, UK. (2017). Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report. URL: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/media-literacy-research/childrens/children-parents-2017



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