In a world of images, we must learn to look critically


“Let’s go to the beach, to cure your soul, close the screen, open the medal (…), and take advantage of the fact that the sun is hot and let’s enjoy the atmosphere”.
Probably this song fragment has moved you to some summer enclave. If we add images, we find his music video showing us a Caribbean lifestyle where fun and social interactions are superimposed on other vital tasks.

In fact, music and image have the power to bring out our emotions and transport us to dream places at any time and place.

The omnipresence of screens today is evident. This is not surprising, since the visual sense is processed earlier and contains more information than the rest.

Now, could the audiovisual medium help us to train critical citizens? The high European instances offer us a complete guide for civic education. In addition, a recent study confirms that it is possible to reflect on images even when learning languages.

Media literacy is urgent

Today’s youth are different from previous generations in several ways: they like to read on screens; they play video games on the net; participate in online communities from an early age or spend a large part of their time on social networks.

However, belonging to this generation of digital natives does not imply that they know how to use technology to learn . Therefore, it is necessary to train students in digital skills .

On the other hand, there seems to be a consensus on the need to work on critical thinking. Faced with the large amount of information available digitally, it is essential to instruct students in critical skills that help them filter content, that is, to read critically; even in the field of language teaching .

Therefore, the new circumstances require updating the skills of students. Hence, it is necessary, in order to live with the digital world, to teach how to view images critically.

Training the citizens of the future

A few years ago, European countries began to introduce civic education subjects in educational programs. What the Council of Europe has now proposed is to unify all these contents and offer teachers of any subject and educational level a complete guide for intercultural, digital, human rights and democratic citizenship education. This is the Framework of Reference in Competencies for a Democratic Culture .

On the one hand, it aims to prevent young people from becoming radicalized and, on the other, it seeks to contribute to the UNESCO sustainable development goals around education . Plato already warned us in his Republic that the end of education and of all good status is to train good citizens.

At last the guide that teachers needed

The model is made up of four groups of competencies. At the base of the framework are the values: human dignity, human rights, cultural diversity, democracy, justice, fairness, equality and the rule of law.

Attitudes follow: openness to cultural diversity and other beliefs, worldviews and practices, respect, civic awareness, responsibility, self-efficacy, and tolerance for ambiguity.

Then there are the skills: autonomous learning, listening and observation, empathy, flexibility and adaptability, cooperation, conflict resolution; along with analytical and critical thinking skills and linguistic, communicative and multilingual skills.

Finally, to function in today’s societies we need a series of knowledge in different fields, as well as active reflection and a critical evaluation of the interpretation of these: self-knowledge, language and communication, politics, legislation, human rights, culture, cultures, religions, history, media, economy, environment and sustainability.

Think in the image learning languages

recent study has analyzed whether the video clip could serve to promote democratic skills in language teaching. For this purpose, the most frequent video clips in Spanish that we can easily view or listen to on the major digital music platforms (Amazon Music, Itunes, YouTube, Spotify, Los 40 Principales) have been analyzed.

The results indicate that music videos in Spanish do not refer to democratic competencies in a homogeneous way. Values ​​stand out, followed by attitudes and, to a lesser extent, skills, knowledge and critical understanding.

Now, despite the fact that a part of the video clips reflects content in democratic competitions, there are still many that spread stereotyped themes about women, youth, hedonism or eroticism.

However, the video clip can be used to reflect on what we consume through screens and, therefore, to educate our students in media literacy. It is a tool with which transversal and interdisciplinary knowledge can be included. If we rely on it guided by the Reference Framework on Competencies for a Democratic Culture , we will be contributing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Pedagogy of the gaze

In this age where it seems that there can only be friends or enemies (nothing in between) and in which emotional elements flood the media content we consume, a pedagogy of the gaze is essential.

The media articulate messages colonizing our unconscious. So let’s continue dreaming and traveling with images, but being aware of what they can hide.

Author Bio: Maria-Carmen Sanchez-Vizcaino is at theResearch Center “Contemporary Thought and Innovation for Social Development” (COIDESO) and ReALL Group of the University of Huelva and Assistant professor (Department of Romance and Slavic Languages at the University of Economics in Bratislava), University of Huelva