From Critical Media Literacy to Employment: How PONDER is helping Kosovo youngsters shape their Future.
4 April / 2018
PONDER is an innovative programme initiative that gives adolescents and youth the much-needed critical thinking skills and empowers them to understand and challenge subjective information.
Written by Lisar Morina and James Mugaju, UNICEF Kosovo (UNSCR1244)
Digital media have brought about unprecedented advantages for society: they have promoted increased interaction and have made people feel more connected than ever before. But the speed with which information spreads through digital media has also made them a vehicle for unreliable information and ‘fake’ news.
In Kosovo, where internet penetration is a staggering 84.8%, adolescents and youth are exposed to an enormous amount of online information daily. With media exposure never having been this high, the need to ensure that young people are mindful of the information they are exposed to and are able to evaluate it from a critical perspective has never been this urgent.
Recognizing the inseparable link between media literacy and critical thinking, UNICEF Kosovo’s Innovations Lab created PONDER, an innovative programme initiative that gives adolescents and youth the much-needed critical thinking skills and empowers them to understand and challenge subjective information.
Critical media literacy is a crucial skill for adolescents and youth in the digital age. PONDER (which is supported by the OSCE mission in Kosovo and implemented by NGO Peer Educators Network) provides young people with the ability to filter messages in social media—it is a non-formal educational response that expands the notion of literacy to include mass and social media.
A young group of participants engaged in media discussion. © UNICEF/Lisar Morina/2018
How does PONDER look like?
Anchored in human centered design, ethnographic research, and participatory action research, PONDER is a non-formal educational response that harnesses the potential of critical thinking to analyze the role of media in our culture and country context. It starts with an intensive three-day segmental curriculum-based training that focuses on the core concepts of critical thinking and media literacy, critical media literacy process skills, media assessment tools, and empowerment through media literacy. Participants work in small teams closely with their mentor who facilitates the workshop. Towards the end of the workshop, participants employ the new tools and concepts in analyses and evaluation of media texts, which constitute their final projects.
Leke Morina, a 16 year-old from Kosovo who has taken part in the programme, says that it has had a long-lasting influence on him. “PONDER was interactive, contained lots of debates, discussions, and media analyses. It stayed true to its purpose—teaching critical thinking—but was also really transformative as it taught me how to think outside the box, and without prejudice—which is something we are not directly taught in school.”
Leke added that PONDER helped him expand his knowledge and develop communications, debating and writing skills.
Another successful participant of the programme, 20-year-old Tringa Dreshaj, says: “Perhaps the biggest impact that [PONDER] had on me was that it made me look at things from a different prism—things that I would take for granted in the past,” she says.
According to her, one of those things includes that information can sometimes be deliberately false and spread propaganda. “Shortly after the programme, I also started writing articles. It was strange at first, as I had never expressed interest in doing this type of a thing, but PONDER instilled a deep love for writing and media.”
Tringa and Leke captured during their internship periods with media agencies. (C) UNICEF/Lisar Morina/2018
Progress so far
One of the hallmarks of PONDER is that it teaches participants how to write articles, and then provides spaces for them to put their skills into practice at hands-on internships at top media institutions in Kosovo. Whereas adolescents benefit from a real professional experience, the media themselves benefit from the contributions of the young participants.
While Tringa was accepted for an internship at one of the biggest media agencies in Kosovo—Koha Net— where she wrote journalistic pieces for the agency’s online news portal, Leke was engaged in ‘Radio Peja’ as a moderator. But perhaps even more remarkable, both of their internships went a step further: they were both offered employment within months. While Leke’s employers offered him a job at their organization, Tringa’s supervisors recommended her to another news agency. Both attribute their success to PONDER’s intensive critical thinking curriculum, saying that it has left a mark on their personal and professional lives.
Tringa and Leke are not the only youngsters to have received employment as a result of the PONDER Internship Experince. Out of 212 youth and adolescents (135 girls) trained through PONDER, 55 (40 girls) were engaged in internship positions, and 15 of those were employed in media institutions after completion of their internship experience.
In Kosovo, where unemployment among young people is very high, and 27% of young people are not employed, in education or in training (NEET) and have limited capacity to participate in the professional sphere, these figures represent a much-needed stride in the empowerment of youngsters to shape their own future.
So where do we go from here?
By underscoring production of media as much as consumption, UNICEF Kosovo intends to equip adolescents with an active, civic engagement mindset needed to help shape an inclusive, equitable and free society. Using the now up-and-running PONDER platform (http://www.ponder-ks.org), adolescents can post analyses of relevant media products, receive peer review, and help us expand our reach to more adolescents and youth. UNICEF Kosovo’s ultimate purpose is to ensure that every adolescent is resilient, well-informed and equipped to become a social innovator and social change agent. UNICEF’s strategic intention is to empower a new generation of young people who understand the role of media in society, challenge indoctrination, and serve as agents of positive social change. UNICEF Kosovo is aiming for the institutionalization of PONDER in the national curriculum, introducing critical thinking and media literacy as vital 21st century skills, crucial for prospering in the digital age.
Want to learn more about Ponder? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook @KosovoInnovations.