“Students here are well versed in new media, from creating their own content online to reading forum posts, and they start to learn these skills in the upper primary levels” (Singapore Students ‘New-Media Savvy’, Amelia Teng).
The three-year study by the National Institute of Education – which determined that students in Singapore are capable of handling new media, and that “new media literacy levels were found to improve greatly from Primary 4 to 6, but they started to plateau in secondary school” (ST, Jul. 3) – reaffirmed the high exposure to and accessibility of social media for students, yet the news report did not provide convincing evidence for literacy and engagement levels.
In this vein, it is also not necessarily fair to conclude that higher exposure to new media means higher literacy in it. Besides providing its definition, more should be shared about the research methodology. How did the researchers test if the respondents could “assess new media content critically, including recognising misinformation”? Were they asked to compare sources, to see “if they could discern and evaluate messages or values found online”? Self-response bias notwithstanding – since it is likely for individuals to overestimate their abilities – what were the questions in the online survey, and what were the common themes?
At the moment, the implications appear superficial. One could make reasonable conclusions about accessibility and exposure from the high broadband or mobile penetration rates in Singapore. Another finding that “the more time students spent online, the higher their literacy levels” is far from meaningful, unless there is data on how students spend their time. In addition, there were no explanations for the disparities in the improvement of literacy levels between those in upper secondary and those in secondary school. Are these diminishing marginal returns? And do they hint at the importance of inculcating media literacy from a young age, or the effectiveness of programmes at the primary schools?
More fundamentally, how do students engage with social media? Which platforms or sites do they use most frequently? What do they do online? How can we turn these findings into actionable recommendations, to reach out to more students for instance?
The proliferation of the Internet is well-documented, and the levels of exposure and accessibility are – along this tangent – well understood. Whether they are truly “new-media savvy” is another question altogether, and the news report does not provide new perspectives in this regard. For the future, even before schools or government agencies seek to involve their students through online channels, it would make more sense to address the questions which remain answered, as well as to perhaps engage parents in these conversations.