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Latin American students learn to spot misinformation

Latin American students being taught how to spot misinformation

A problem that's not a priority

As much as they spend time online, young people often struggle to make sense of what they find there.

The problem is especially acute in Latin America, says Lina Torres, director of projects and strategy at Movilizatorio, a social research and public advocacy organisation based in Colombia. Media literacy rates are low across the region (a 2020 study found 70 per cent of Latin Americans were susceptible to misinformation). And a lack of focus at the policy level adds to the challenge. Much of the region, Torres says, is 'fighting monsters that include the very basics of attending school or reading and writing capacities.' In that context, media literacy is a low priority.

To help fill this gap, Movilizatorio created DigiMENTE ('digital mind'), a media literacy curriculum designed specifically for Latin American students for those aged 12 to 17. There are plenty of effective media literacy curricula, Torres says, but DigiMENTE is the first that 'has the context that makes sense for people in the region.'

Learning to think critically, create responsibly

Before beginning work on DigiMENTE, Movilizatorio rigorously studied 20 existing programmes, integrating the most effective elements into a curriculum tailored to the cultural context of Spanish-speaking Latin America. The resulting 16-week curriculum teaches students how to critically evaluate information, think and reflect ethically as well as produce creative content and participate responsibly within the media ecosystem. 'DigiMENTE not only focuses on fake news, but on the development of skills needed to understand and be involved in the media ecosystem,' Torres says.

Though led by Movilizatorio, DigiMENTE was a collaboration from start to finish, Torres says. A partner from the conception of the project, the Google News Initiative (GNI) provided support and strategic guidance that helped Movilizatorio bring together the right people and resources to develop a scalable programme. The global nonprofit Teach for All and local chapters, Enseñá por Colombia, Enseñá por Mexico and Enseñá Argentina implemented a round of pilot tests and provided critical insights gleaned from those classrooms.

In March 2021, local Enseñá chapters ran an initial version of DigiMENTE with 500 students in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico. Torres and her team analysed the results against a control group. Taking in feedback from teachers and teams on the ground, they refined the curriculum. Then they began to scale it, launching a second pilot phase in August 2021, meeting with school systems around the region.

Headshot of Lina Torres in front of a leafy background
Our work is about how to raise the volume on this issue and how to connect it to the needs of society. We need to slowly create a wave of users and experts saying that this is important.
Lina Torres
Partner and Director of Projects and Strategy, Movilizatorio

A foundation for the future

DigiMENTE raised the tested students’ overall media literacy scores against the control group. And, Torres says, the ground-up work required to evaluate the pilot laid a foundation for the future. 'This study provided a baseline of media literacy for students [in Latin America],' she says. 'It will only help us advance the state of media literacy research for the region.'

  • 3,000 people reached in pilot programme
  • 30,000 people across Latin America
  • 5 points students scored higher on a test to identify fake news

Early results have been promising. In fact, Movilizatorio has expanded the programme to reach adult audiences as well as students. Still, Torres notes, alerting policymakers to the need for media literacy education is a long-term effort. 'Our work is how to raise the volume on this issue and how to connect it to the needs of society,' she says. 'We need to slowly create a wave of users and experts saying that this is important.'

Signing on school systems in Bogota and Veracruz suggests the willingness is there. 'We have seen the extent to which having the curriculum ready, tested and contextualised to the region is useful for policymakers,' Torres says. 'Those are the conversations we're having now. And when they see that this is ready to use, for free, then they start to pay attention.'

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