Western Education supports UN effort to improve global media literacy

September 28, 2016

Carolyn Wilson, program coordinator at Western Education’s International Office, chairs a global initiative dedicated to developing informed citizens, and is now starting a North American chapter of the group.

Carolyn Wilson envisions a world filled with engaged and informed citizens.

“It’s important,” said Wilson, program coordinator at Western Education’s International Office and a leading expert on media literacy. “We need people around the globe who know how to access information, evaluate what they’re being told, and use the information to participate in their local and global communities.”

But developing this world of informed citizens requires empowering people with the skills and competencies to navigate 21 st century media and information technologies. Being media literate, said Wilson, is central to active citizenship.

The UN’s educational arm, UNESCO, agrees.

It created the Global Alliance for Partnerships on Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL), an initiative dedicated to developing active and informed citizens by promoting media and information literacy around the world. Wilson has been Chair of the group since it formed in 2013.

Since then, GAPMIL has grown to include representatives and organizations from more than 80 countries. In order to help operationalize its global aspirations, the organization is now creating smaller chapters to address issues specific to each of the 5 UN regions.

In addition to chairing GAPMIL, Wilson is also leading the establishment of the North American chapter.

Sponsored by the Faculty of Education’s International Office and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the group recently held its inaugural meeting in London.

“Without the competencies connected to an expanded definition of literacy, people will be significantly disadvantaged and disempowered in the digital age,” said Wilson. “Better-informed citizens can participate more fully in the democratic processes of their countries, and with this group we’re looking forward to helping bring the North American perspective to the global conversation.”

The London meeting saw some of the best media literacy minds and experts in North America - including librarians, non-profit organizations, public broadcasters and educational professionals – gather together to discuss key priorities and next steps for North America.

While the meeting involved a multi-faceted discussion and strategic approach, for Wilson, education was a central theme.

“For me it always comes back to education,” she said. “Whether we’re talking about traditional notions of education like post-secondary institutions or public schools, or thinking about things like working with community centres or helping develop online programming, the important part of this initiative is figuring out how we educate as many people, in as many places, as possible.”

The Faculty of Education itself is leading the way in this area by offering instruction on multiliteracies and media literacy in its Bachelor of Education program.

The faculty also represents Western as a member of a select group of international academics that also operates under the GAPMIL umbrella, and focuses on research-oriented methods of improving media literacy.

“We’re right in the midst of this at Western,” said Wilson. “It’s incredibly exciting to be involved in work with the potential to make a difference on both a local and global scale.”