Introduction and state of the art
Since the creation of UNESCO’s “Media and information literacy curriculum for teachers” (Wilson et al., 2011) until its recent update, initiatives are being promoted around the world to influence teacher training that responds to the needs of mediatized citizens (Renés-Arellano et al., 2021). On the one hand, the digital transformation has generated new challenges related to managing personal data, the algorithmization of information systems, the need to build coherent online identities and combat disinformation and fake news (Unesco, 2021). On the other hand, the impact of COVID-19 in regions such as Latin America has exacerbated structural gaps. These include socioeconomic inequalities that determine high levels of school segregation and asymmetries in access to the media: 90% of households in the rural sector have no access to the Internet and the age group with the least connectivity are children from 5 to 12 years old. Moreover, low connection speeds limit or prevent remote education (Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe, 2020). The gaps between rural and urban schools as well as public and private schools have also been exposed, adding to others such as gender (Mateus & Andrada, 2021).
In this pandemic context, there is an urgent need to study the scope and impact of distance learning strategies deployed by states, especially in less economically developed countries. At the same time, it is pertinent to reveal the voice of school teachers, still invisible in the literature (Perdomo, 2021), in order to contribute to building a critical agenda for media education. This agenda starts with recognizing the existing conditions in the region, proposing an alternative frame of reference to the hegemonic frameworks of developed countries, which are often not applicable due to the omission of disadvantaged structural and cultural contexts (Carlsson, 2020; Pettersson, 2018).
Media education refers to the set of critical and creative abilities to interact with the media that are developed within the formal system based on a series of conditions, such as the existence of a pluralistic media system, access and connectivity within citizens’ reach, curricular policies and standards that encourage it as well as teacher training plans (Mateus et al., 2019). The approach to media education in Latin America, known as educommunication, includes at least two unique features. First, it is conceived from the theory of dependency and the pedagogical developments of Paulo Freire (2005) with respect to liberating the oppressed, the critical perspective, and the importance of dialogue as a methodology (Bermejo-Berros, 2021). This indicates that its development transcends the communication field and is built from culture and politics. Second, it is incubated in a context of inequalities and material insecurity in terms of access to the media.
With the inclusion of computer science in schools, known as the “technological leap” (Fuenzalida, 2005), the concern for sound and audiovisual media was replaced in many countries by massive purchases of digital devices and the creation of ICT courses, without this implying the development of teacher training policies that respond to the educommunicative tradition. Thus, the inclusion of digital competence, present in all study plans in the region, suffers from an excessively prescriptive tone linked to the concrete and instrumental use of education technology (Mateus et al., 2019). Along these lines, most of the reference frameworks that introduce ICTs in the teaching experience are “performative models of evaluation, control, and training in basic technical skills” (Castañeda et al., 2018: 14), which neither construct transmedia practices nor content generated by increasingly everyday users in the life experiences of children and adolescents with Internet access (Scolari et al., 2020).
This work subscribes to the idea that media education “cannot become a means to creating consumers and users of technology, nor can it depend in any way on the commercial interests of the dominant companies at all times” (Gutiérrez-Martín & Tyner, 2012: 32). It instead requires acknowledging the inherent complexity of contemporary digital capitalism (Buckingham, 2019). In addition, it proposes to “continue advancing in redefining and adapting the concept of media education to the current scenario” (Rodríguez-Vázquez et al., 2020: 52), beginning with the emerging changes caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic that have placed the education system in a situation of singular dependence on the media, and has made the historical tension between school and techno-media culture even more notable (Novomisky, 2020).
Materials and methods
The objectives of the study were, first, to analyze the strategies deployed in Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru to respond to the educational context caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, to explore the perception of teachers from the four countries on the challenges and opportunities of media education in this context, with the aim of thinking about a critical agenda that contributes to its development.
Procedure and sample
The research was conducted in four countries: Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. The qualitative approach was selected because the purpose of the study was to delve into the views, interpretations, and meanings given by teachers to the topics of study (Hernández-Sampieri & Mendoza, 2018).
Initially, the work focused on searching for official documents that contained the government strategies implemented to carry out remote education in the context of COVID-19. Thus, reports disseminated on the institutional websites of the ministries of education of the four countries were reviewed as well as institutional news published in the media. The search spanned posts from March 2020 to May 2021.
Second, two focus groups were held in each country (eight in total), made up of teachers from private and public schools in urban areas. Convenience sampling was used according to the research needs. The participants were recruited through different channels. For example, by upholding institutional agreements or having participated in previous research projects. The participating teachers were mostly women (70%), and all taught different subjects to students between 9 and 11 years old, and in grades 4, 5, and 6 of basic education (primary). All of them previously expressed their consent to be part of the study. The focus group method is helpful to question several individuals in a systematic and simultaneous way based on a topic guide that, in this case, helped obtain data on lived experiences, perceptions, and descriptions in the remote education environment (Babbie, 2010). The focus groups were held on Zoom and comprised between seven and nine participants each, a sufficient number in function of the topic discussed (Creswell, 2005).
The number of focus groups was defined by comparing the results and confirming that the information obtained would no longer be new if more similar studies were conducted. According to Buss et al. (2013), the synergy of the group prompts a dynamic and unique process that allows each focus group to be understood as a context, which is why it was considered relevant and sufficient to obtain different information from one group in private schools and another group, including public schools of the urban areas, mentioned above.
The focus group guide (Table 1: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.15070317) was developed from the literature review and was validated in a pilot focus group that served to organize the issues to be addressed and clarify some questions whose concepts were not clear. The questions were organized around three themes: digital culture and media literacy training; student media competencies; and challenges and opportunities detected in teaching practice to construct a critical agenda.
Analysis and results
Responses to COVID-19
In the four countries analyzed, in-person classes were suspended between March 12, 2020 and March 16, 2020, and strategies were generated such that students could continue with remote classes (Table 2). Thus, in Peru, the “Aprendo en Casa” [Learning at Home] strategy was implemented. It offers content for radio, television, and the Internet linked to the curriculum as well as socio-emotional and civic culture issues. In 2021, the authorities corrected some flaws that were detected in its initial implementation, such as the design of materials for students with specific environments and needs (special or intercultural) (Ministerio de Educación del Perú, nd). For its part, in Ecuador, the “Aprendemos Juntos en Casa” [We Learn Together at Home] plan was established. It has guidelines for the prioritized curriculum and content for different regions of the country and education levels. The “Aprender en la Tele” [Learn on TV] educational program was also designed. This is available on television and rural community radiostations (Ministerio de Educación del Ecuador, nd). In Argentina, the “Seguimos Educando” [We Continue to Educate] program was created. It organizes the contents of TV, radio, a series of printed booklets, and digital materials (Ministerio de Educación de Argentina, nd). Finally, in Chile, the “Aprendo en Línea” [Learning Online] program was established with multimedia sections for students, teachers, and parents (Ministerio de Educación de Chile, nd). In addition, the Chile Educa educational TV channel was created. In short, the strategies aimed at emergency remote education in the four countries were based not only on websites that offered multimedia content but also included “traditional” media, necessary because of the connectivity gaps described above.
These plans were implemented along with specific deliveries of technological devices to students and teachers. In Ecuador, tablets were given to students within the public education system, and private companies donated laptops, phones, chips, among other devices, to the neediest students (Ministerio de Educación del Ecuador, 2020). Meanwhile, in Peru, tablets were delivered to students and teachers in targeted rural and urban areas, and some telecommunications companies developed initiatives to free up access to official content for users in hard-to-reach locations (RPP, 2021). In Argentina, a plan that included connectivity, equipment, teacher training and education, and a free federal educational navigation platform was implemented. Within this plan, laptops were delivered to students (Educ.ar, 2021). Similarly, in Chile, notebooks with free internet were given to 7th grade students (12 years old) in vulnerable situations (CNN Chile, 2020). In addition, students from the most vulnerable middle technical schools (16 years old) received free internet from the private sector (Ministerio de Educación de Chile, 2020a).
The previous training that teachers had received determined the implementation of media education initiatives during the emergency. In Peru, the Ombudsman’s Office (2020) warned about the gap in preparing for the pedagogical use of ICTs, especially in rural sectors. In Chile, the 2009 curriculum adjustment left media education in a secondary tier and included technology as a subject in secondary education (Andrada et al., 2019). In Argentina, based on the “Conectar Igualdad” [Connect Equality] program, curriculum additions were deployed until 2016. Later, because of the economic crisis, focus was placed on reforms, such as the Priority Learning Nuclei of Digital Education, Programming and Robotics in 2018. Ecuador seems to be an exception: a study by Rivera et al. (2016) recognized that teachers had medium-level media competence, and students mostly consider their teachers to have the skills to design virtual teaching in the context of the pandemic (Tejedor et al., 2020).
In this context, the curriculum prioritization in the pandemic was limited to the use of technology to learn and know. In Ecuador, the curriculum prioritized during the emergency indicates the importance of developing digital competencies while recognizing asymmetries in access. In Peru, the Ministry of Education encouraged teachers to select relevant digital tools for the development of students’ competencies and that these be included in the planning and formative evaluation processes. This required teachers of all subjects to evaluate their students’ abilities and their performance in virtual environments. In Chile, curriculum prioritization was optional and flexible at educational establishments for two-years (2020–2021). This defines the “essential” knowledge that must be addressed and has three main criteria: balance between the objectives of the curriculum’s focal points or training lines; coherence of learning and response to a progression in the cycle that facilitates learning; and essentiality to continue teaching the following year (Ministerio de Educación de Chile, 2020b). In Argentina, the reforms guide the curriculum to prioritize and reorganize knowledge; diversify teaching strategies and learning goals; review complementary times and resources as well as didactic proposals for intensifying teaching that combine work at school and at home within the framework of the established calendars (Consejo Federal de Educación, 2020a).
On the other hand, one of the most serious consequences of the pandemic in the region has been school dropout, which has shown that not everyone has had equal opportunities to adapt to the virtual setting. In Ecuador, 3% of the total student population is at risk of dropping out of school, while 90,000 children and young people dropped out of school because of lack of technological tools (Teleamazonas, 2021) and 200,000 students went from private to public education (Ecuavisa, 2021). In Peru, the number of school dropouts reached 370,000 students (El Comercio, 2021). Thousands of private education centers closed, more than half a million students transferred from private to public institutions, and school enrollment decreased by at least 15% (Cueto et al., 2020). The consequences in Argentina are similar: it is estimated that one million students dropped out of the education system (Consejo Federal de Educación, 2020b), while in Chile, school dropouts reached 6% of the school population (Ministerio de Educación de Chile, 2021).
Given this, governments have sought to curb this problem. In Ecuador, pilot back-to-school programs were authorized, but circumstances forced the strategy to be reversed (Servicio Nacional de Gestión de Riesgos y Emergencias, 2021). In Peru, a regulation was released at the beginning of 2021 for the gradual, flexible, voluntary, and safe return to in-person classes, which is still in the process of implementation. In Argentina, the Ministry created a program for students who left the system, which reached more than 361,000 students (Consejo Federal de Educación, 2020b). In Chile, school directors used a contact management tool that made it possible to connect six out of 10 children who had dropped out of school between August and December 2020. In addition, the Early Warning System reports students at risk of school exclusion to implement targeted retention strategies (Ministerio de Educación de Chile, 2021).
Digital culture and teacher training
As results of the focus groups, the notions of digital culture, competencies, and media education coincided in the voices of teachers from the four countries, related to the emphasis on the use of technologies more as tools than as cultural mediators. In general, according to teachers, the definition of digital culture depends on technological access. In Argentina, Ecuador, and Peru, a marked difference was observed between public and private school teachers, since private school students have the most devices and “develop a greater digital culture.” In Chile, they mentioned that there is “digital illiteracy among students” and, as in Peru, they recognized that the media was an emergency solution in the midst of the health crisis for the purposes of “communicating and integrating.” Teachers from private institutions in Ecuador and Chile highlighted a paradigm shift: abandoning linear teaching and broadening their gaze toward other media. The concept of digital citizenship barely came up in the focus groups.
As for teacher training in media analysis, use, and production, in all four countries, governments and public institutions (and in many cases education institutions themselves) implemented training programs for teachers, mainly as part of projects subscribed with companies that provide them with technological services (Google, Microsoft, etc.). The teachers stated that the training received has not been sufficient or that they find it basic, which has forced them to learn on their own. It is also clear that ICT training is not homogeneous, and that training does not distinguish between the different levels of prior knowledge. In Argentina, teachers stated that training should be extended to students’ families so that they can help children. The training received by the teachers was linked to virtual classroom management (Classroom, Moodle), video call platforms (Zoom, Meet, or Teams) or recreational tools (Kahoot, Quizizz), in addition to the use of programs to make digital presentations (PowerPoint, Prezi), among others. Some teachers received specific training in other tools, but only Ecuador reported the production of videos, comics, and memes as class activities, especially in private institutions where access to devices and the internet enable students to create such resources.
Another emerging issue was fake news. In Chile, teachers pointed to the importance of researching sources. Private centers mentioned specific criteria, such as verifying the spelling of texts, the presence of a logo, or the ease of recognizing authorship. Teachers in the four countries acknowledged deficiencies in their ability to identify and teach how to differentiate fake news in digital media. In Chile and Ecuador, teachers noted their interest in approaching multimedia with the didactics of the message through images and video rather than the discourse in printed books. In Ecuador, they also mentioned their interest in using tools for online assessments, training on safe searches and information to be more efficient when performing them. Meanwhile, in Argentina and Peru, teachers demanded more specific and relevant training, since training is usually common for all levels and curricular areas.
The barriers that were identified in the four countries were a lack of access to electronic devices (because of their high costs) and a good internet connection, especially in public institutions. In Chile, they also mentioned being tired after working “so many hours” in front of a computer. In Argentina, some teachers think it is wrong to transfer in-person classes to remote learning without a more rigorous adaptation process. All the participants in the focus groups pointed to the increase in workload and the privacy risks as well as the difficulty of educational integration for students with different capacities.
Students’ media competencies
At the curriculum level, the four countries were undergoing a digital transition before the pandemic, with new media or technological competencies in the curricula, especially with a transversal approach that removed the classic computer science subjects. In Ecuador, a teacher pointed out that the constant readjustment of the curriculum, which “has changed 5 times in 10 years,” represented a barrier to developing students’ media competencies. However, the curriculum mainstreaming allowed teachers of subjects such as History and Geography to contrast sources, develop arguments, and encourage students to communicate them; although, as in Chile and Peru, “they seek information, but there is no reflection on the media.” In Peru, the curriculum started in 2017 contains insufficient guidelines that teachers consider continue to be associated with the subject of computing.
As with teachers, access gaps determine their students’ media practices. There was agreement that poor connectivity is a determining factor in evaluating media capabilities. Some teachers in Peruvian schools, for example, pointed out that parents with fewer resources view ICTs as “excessive spending.” These asymmetries have led teachers, especially in public schools, to work in an unbalanced way according to each student’s technological possibilities, often supported only by printed materials without access to virtual classes. Those who can connect do so for a few minutes and with significant limitations. Chilean teachers added that it is difficult to work with younger students who do not have an adult to support them at home. This is compounded by the low cultural capital of some families because of the lack of stimulation children receive as part of their education. In Chile and Peru, private schools are considered “privileged” compared to public schools, and the differences in comfort to study in more suitable environments stand out. In addition, Chilean teachers reported differences in emotional intelligence among their students in the pandemic and stated that some families prefer that children go to work during the health and economic emergency rather than attend school.
Some students with more favorable technological access, especially in private schools, have demonstrated competencies related to the production and dissemination of content when preparing audiovisual resources. In Ecuador, teachers indicated that the use of media contributes to the development of oral expression. At institutions with greater resources, frequent skills involved producing videos and sharing them on platforms such as YouTube, creating memes, stickers, and comics with the help of applications that they taught themselves to use. Argentine public school teachers spoke about the opportunities offered by TikTok, although their Peruvian peers expressed concern about the risks that social networks entail. In the focus groups in Argentina and Peru, the narrative of the “digital native who learns quickly” was repeated. Meanwhile, in the Chilean focus group, the use of Instagram was discussed, but reference was made to knowledge without depth and only functional to entertainment.
Finally, the teachers recognized their students’ ability to adapt to the virtual environment, particularly in Argentina, where collaborative and autonomous work stood out. Their Peruvian counterparts agreed in recognizing the development of a “language of their own” and a “sense of inquiry” in the virtual scheme, which they are not taking advantage of. This is nuanced by statements from Chilean teachers when they state that some students find it more difficult to perform on digital platforms because they have attention deficits, are shy, or more withdrawn. While they acknowledge the skills to produce content, Chilean and Peruvian teachers pointed to the lack of basic skills such as “writing an email” as well as the absence of critical skills, as their students “cannot see beyond the device.”
Constructing a critical agenda
Teachers propose a critical agenda in media education that starts with the priority of overcoming the material deficiencies present in each territory. Then, they propose training in critical skills to understand the media from its social role of informing as well as taking advantage of the opportunities they offer, considering the skills that are easily developed in trendy social networks but in a limited way in tasks that are different from these.
In Ecuador, some teachers stated that more thorough media training for students should be included, which goes beyond managing programs. Like their peers in other countries, they said that children “quickly grasp” how to operate platforms and applications, facilitating further learning as long as access, connectivity, and teacher training are favorable. Their view of the media and social networks is not positive; they associate the media with information, but with this information comes a lot of stress, bad news, and a negative and pessimistic approach to life. In Peru, teachers link traditional media to a dual role: entertaining and informing. They find that they are still far from having an educational role, even though they have a constitutional obligation to do so. Regarding digital media, they are concerned about information overload and the emotional impacts on their students: tiredness, weariness, fatigue, and information overload. Additionally, for rural schoolteachers, frustration due to poor connectivity and the fact that their students cannot take advantage of their right to education due to a lack of means to do so was mentioned. In Argentina, many of the comments that build the critical agenda arose from the shortcomings and deficiencies seen in the previous points: digital culture and student competencies. Here, teachers recognized three central aspects to be strengthened: the need to guarantee access to technological devices and connectivity, the essential nature of offering training, and the urgent need to invest in infrastructure, resources, and salaries.
Regarding access to technology, teachers in state schools highlighted the role of some public policies, such as the “Conectar Igualdad” plan, which provided teachers and students with laptops and which was dismantled in 2016. They agreed on the need to establish support programs so that teachers and families can acquire the devices as well as guarantee universal internet access plans. As for curriculum content, they considered it important that computer and technology subjects be instituted at all levels and that they not be centered on instrumental use. They also pointed to the lack of specific topics such as the responsible use of networks.
In Chile, the view of the media is that its function is to inform but since the social outcry in 2019, they have been questioned because there is a perception that the media causes misinformation and confusion. In public schools, after the outcry, new media appeared on the internet that show what is not shown on television, thus, breaking the information bubble and showing that the role of the media should be to control power. Regarding education with media, such as remote education, the human side is lost because feelings are ignored and personal contact cannot be replaced, although more places can be reached. In private schools, it is emphasized that the media are in debt: the reporting method is traditional, and it does not take responsibility for the changes produced by the pandemic. In conclusion, the teachers interviewed highlight the need for internet connection, the essential use of devices to be able to offer pedagogical continuity in a pandemic, and the urgency of media education from a citizenship approach (Figure 1).
Discussion and conclusions
The responses to the health crisis in the four countries studied sought to safeguard the right to education with remote education strategies. They implemented multimedia channels based on web platforms and, to a lesser extent, provided certain vulnerable sectors with technology and connectivity. However, a relevant group has been excluded from school and another has impoverished the quality of their learning because of the lack of the minimum elements to study, especially in the public sector, where the majority of the population is concentrated. This coincides with results from other studies carried out in the region (Mateus & Andrada, 2021).
The study carried out revealed common characteristics in the four education systems. First, the technological deficiency, which is not only limited to the shortage of devices or lack of connectivity but also to the connection speed; second, the lack of teacher training that transcends the instruments of the environment; and third, students with greater access to ICTs more easily incorporate knowledge through platforms, programs, and applications. This should not limit the need for a media education that enables them to develop a critical view that in turn allows them to build appropriation capacities.
The development of media competences in school students improves with the training they receive in the area (Rey et al., 2017) and “necessarily goes through the training of teachers in this area” (Aguaded et al., 2021: 14). Generational gaps have resulted in much of this training being self-taught or more focused on experimentation as a personal initiative of teachers (Aguaded-Gómez et al., 2015). The teachers participating in the focus groups relate their media skills and those of their students with their material circumstances. To that extent, they feel removed from the concepts of media education or digital culture that many frames of reference in academic literature use. Specifically, they consider both, that the basis of their media training should rely on policies that guarantee equitable access, and that dialogue with a critical perspective that promotes democratic participation of citizens is required, in line with the educommunicative tradition (Bermejo-Berros, 2021). They also demand delving into the care and well-being of students as well as the training of criteria to search for and manage information, through support and parental mediation.
Given this, media education in Latin America must be understood politically from an equality standpoint: the most unequal region on the planet must integrate technologies, their use, and critical training in the classroom, from a perspective that gives way to conditions of equity or possible futures for their children. The provision of technology can no longer be decoupled from critical reflection on its use.
Teachers have achieved high levels of resilience, but they demand that their states provide the role of bridging the existing gaps exacerbated by the pandemic through sustainable policies. Training for the functioning of the education system in a pandemic, and a probable new educational normality of hybrid environments, is not a problem that is solved only in the physical space of schools. Just as remote education enables the development of new forms of proximity for teachers, the accompaniment of families plays a main role in helping students to face uncertainty and give meaning to their educational process.
Another element that was demonstrated is the potential of policies that link traditional and digital media, since paper booklets to the latest generation platforms allow the deployment of pedagogical strategies that recognize the specific characteristics and the “vocabulary universe” of each student (Freire, 2005). As is apparent from the present study, it is also key to trust teachers, value their creative role, alleviate the bureaucratic burden, and bet on peer learning models that lead them to validate and share the skills acquired in a self-taught way.
The exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 context prevent addressing the educational scenario in all its complexity and richness. We highlight this due to the type of survey of government information and educational statistics carried out, characterized by constant changes. For this reason, the qualitative analysis of teaching perspectives has at the same time an enormous wealth, but also limitations. It is in this tension that this article was developed.
The situation of lockdown and the violent transformation from in person to virtuality put schooling into disturbing terrain, but the resilience of educators, students, and families allows us to remain afloat. The keys and the enormous potential of the lessons learned in this framework can surely be found in the intersection of communication and education perspectives if we manage to learn from what happened in order to build the bases of a critical regional agenda, the result of our own practices, and experiences. Finally, the inclusion of new voices will make it possible to propose future works that contribute to the construction of a critical agenda for media education in Latin America.
Idea, J.C.M.; Literature review (state of the art), J.C.M., P.A., C.G.C., C.U., S.N.; Methodology, C.G.C.; Data analysis, J.C.M., P.A., C.G.C., C.U., S.N.; Results, J.C.M., P.A., C.G.C., C.U., S.N.; Discussion and conclussions, J.C.M., S.N.; Writing (original draft), J.C.M., P.A., C.G.C., C.U., S.N.; Final revisions, J.C.M., P.A., C.G.C., C.U., S.N.; Project design and sponsorship, J.C.M., C.G.C., C.U. (1)