Ligin George John, a student in Pathanamthitta, Kerala, received a few “interesting” WhatsApp forwards from one of his aunts. One of them was about getting a recharge coupon free if certain messages were forwarded to a group of people.
On a typical day, the class 10 student would hastily open such a message, read it, and forward it to like-minded friends. But on that day, he did not do so. “I took a good look at it, checked its authenticity, and figured it was a piece of fake news, thanks to the training I received recently at my school,” says the 15-year-old who studies at the Abraham Marthoma Memorial Higher Secondary School (AMMHSS) in Edayaranmula.
Ligin George John is one of over 20 lakh students who have undergone a digital media literacy programme initiated by Kerala Infrastructure and Technology for Education (KITE, formerly IT@School), a State government enterprise that oversees implementation of educational infrastructure programmes in aided schools.
V. Sivankutty, Minister for General Education, said Satyameva Jayate includes nearly 6,000 trainers and covers students from class 5 to class 10, aiming to arm them with the fundamental skills to spot misinformation and check its spread.
K. Anvar Sadath, CEO, KITE, said: “In this age of social media, whether we like it or not, an alarming number of children are exposed to misinformation on the Internet. Hence, it becomes extremely important to equip the children to identify fake information and pseudoscience.”
An estimate from a UNICEF report called “Digital misinformation/disinformation and children” showed that in 2020 alone, 76 per cent of persons between 14 and 24 reported seeing online mis/disinformation at least once a week. That was a “rise of 50 per cent” from the previous two years. According to UNICEF, only 2 per cent of “children and young people” have the “critical literacy skills” to judge whether a news story is real or false.
Sathyameva Jayathe aims to help students imbibe these critical skills not only to help themselves but to assist their families and the society they live in as well, says Shanavas K, a “Master Trainer” with KITE, who headed a four-member team that created the modules for the campaign, which was inaugurated by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on February 10, 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic period when Kerala’s school education system went online.
KITE runs an educational television channel called VICTERS that first started airing digital awareness programmes. The second phase of the programme went live in June 2021 and this time, KITE offered class-wise training for students from class 8 to 12.
The third phase began in August 2022 using what KITE calls a “special training module”, under which every student received training for over two-and-a-half hours in four sections. These included the use of the Internet in day-to-day life, social media and its users, rights and wrongs in social media, and how to prevent the spread of fake news.
Shanavas said: “We have gone through global models on identifying fake news while preparing our programme and distilled all the information we gathered and contextualised them for our social milieu. We consulted scores of journalists and used their expertise too.”
According to KITE, the training also stressed the influence of digital media in information dissemination, fact-checking, and constructive reporting of misinformation. The training sessions were broadcast on the VICTER channel and are available on KITE’s YouTube channel as well.
Interestingly, KITE aims to extend its training to other stakeholders too. “We also run training for the parents as well, using the same modules that we have used to train our children,” said Asha P. Mathew, who teaches at AMMHSS, Edayaranmula. Asha is a Sathyameva Jayathe trainer. “The most interesting factor here is that it was the students that taught the parents,” she added.
According to her, the parents have benefitted immensely from the training. “During COVID times, when the whole education system went online, most parents were caught unawares. They were not only forced to start using digital technology but were also under pressure to give away their devices to their children as online classes became the norm,” Asha said.
She added: “This created a lot of tension in our communities. Children caught up with the trend faster and started finding ways to exploit the new normal, while parents struggled to cope and the whole experience of figuring out the good-touch and bad-touch of technology was quite frustrating.”
Sheeja Joseph, a parent from Pathanamthitta, whose son Asher underwent training under Sathyameva Jayathe, agrees. She said: “The training gave us enough pointers on cyber security, fact-checking, online etiquette, monitoring the digital behaviour of our children and more. We really want more of such training. This is a lifesaver.”
According to Ligin George John, it would “really help if this programme becomes part of our regular curriculum”.
Sadath of KITE said: “Students and parents are facing new challenges on the digital front every other day and this calls for a more dedicated, sustainable, and long-term approach. We are committed to offering that to our students.”
Sathyameva Jayathe digital awareness classes are available here.
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