Digital Families 2022 – A new wave in literacy
08 Jun, 2023
4 minute read

Digital Families 2022 – A new wave in literacy

Media literacy educator, Faith Rogow, PhD, opened this year’s Digital Families 2022 conference and shared her expert insights and research into media literacy. Here are our top takeaways from Faith’s keynote speech – and you can watch the recording of her session and the other sessions from the day on our rewatch page.


The concept of ‘literacy’ is shifting

Dr Rogow shared with us that, for the first time since Gutenberg’s printing revolution, we are now in a new wave of literacy – or illiteracy. 

Three hundred years ago, the concept of reading and writing was only for the elite few but now, it is assumed that everyone can (or should) be able to read and write. 

Digital media and technology are driving a new literacy revolution. Today, literacy requires much more than understanding and decoding printed words and writing sentences. The reader now has to decode images, memes, charts, graphs and audio in addition to printed text, often at the same time. Correctly analysing these sources must then become as routine as reading written words. Being unable to do this is the 21st Century version of “illiteracy”. 

Dr. Rogow believes that this understanding is as important as teaching early reading and writing, we need to reform education to embed media literacy into every subject. 

Literacy education needs reforming

“Media literacy is what we do because we can’t keep children away from screens and effectively help them become literate at the same time, any more than we can keep them away from books and expect them to become great readers.” 

The changing landscape of literacy that we are all seeing, reading and hearing, means that teaching this in schools needs to change. 

Media literacy is about more than teaching children to be safe on the internet. 

The saying ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink’ comes to mind when teaching online safety – children may be able to repeat lessons about being safe online and spotting misinformation and unsafe spaces, but how do we know they will apply this thinking in real life? These warnings don’t allow children to develop the critical thinking skills they need to assess and analyse digital media for themselves. 

We teach children how to cross the road safely so they can do this on their own at a suitable age, so why don’t we adopt this approach to being online?

Sign up to our newsletter and get the best of Parent Zone to your inbox. Find out more

Misinformation starts early!

A lot of us don’t realise how early misinformation starts. As a fun - but thought-provoking - example, Dr Rogow highlighted the amount of misinformation in the much-loved YouTube hit Baby Shark: their colours, sizes and behaviour. The video has had 11 billion views – but no one has called it out or asked for it to be banned because of these inaccuracies.

Dr Rogow used this to demonstrate how parents can encourage childrens’ early media literacy skills by prompting their curiosity, encouraging them to ask questions about what they see, hear and consume online – like Grandma Shark’s lack of teeth. With an inquiry-based media literacy background, children will be more able to engage and explore online spaces to find, evaluate and reflect on information. They will be using the interconnected ‘cogs’ of media literacy skills to make and research their inquiry. 

Dr Rogow wants this inquiry-based thinking to become automatic, just like it is for us to read printed text without thinking about it. Our goal is to help children become literate in the digital media rich world to give them the skills to live in a digital future. 

So, we must, as Dr Rogow said, “end the guilt, start the education.”


Listen to Parent Zone's podcast, Tech Shock.