MIL – a survival skill for everyone. Why?

Year of production: 2023

Media and information literacy (MIL) according to Maria Murumaa-Mengel, a media educator and researcher, is a set of skills that helps you navigate the world and guide you on how to make good choices for yourself. In general, MIL is an umbrella term that unites many literacies: scientific literacy, financial literacy, digital literacies and, as Maria says, “There are millions of little sub skills and sub pieces of knowledge that are necessary and unique for everybody.”

Long-time youth information worker and DW Akademie educator Evaldas Rupkus calls MIL “a survival skill”. He claims that today we are being constantly threatened by false information campaigns, and we need new approaches to innovation in the field of combating disinformation.

This is what makes MIL so important: to make people understand and evaluate information and recognise its validity. And this is exactly why it affects everybody, because we all consume media and live in a world where media is all around us.

MIL education through the work of nonprofits

There are different ways to educate people in media and information literacy , and the work that is done by nonprofits is invaluable. Maria explains that journalists and mass media channels don’t set out to tell us the stories of dominant voices. “It’s a matter of being aware that there are different kinds of voices, and these storytellers and other voices must be made available to journalists. So that’s why I really do think that a lot of NGOs are doing a great job because they are presenting stories that are often missing from the larger media frame.”

It can be done through co-creating alternative media channels, for example. One great example is Radio Actius from Spain – a community radio station representing the voices of its neighborhood in Barcelona, the Poble-Sec region. The people at Radio Actius often invite those whose views are usually not presented in the mainstream media, and their priority is to discuss matters relevant to their own neighbourhood. The topics they present, however, are not always light or easy. Their mission is to speak through the lens of feminism, social polarisation, racism, housing and many other relevant topics. They believe that they feel obligated to speak out when things are not working well, and they have the mission of promoting the strengths of a diverse community. They also offer an open platform for young people by inviting them to speak about topics relevant to them and by empowering them through offering them a mouthpiece.

Ruido Photo is another organisation in Barcelona that works with young people. Their aim is to change the social image through participatory film and photography. Their main project is Infraexpuestos where they have engaged with local Catalan teenagers and minors who have come to Barcelona to seek asylum and have made the journey without any adult to support them. These two groups carried out a photography project together, which depicted their everyday lives. They took photos of their surroundings and homes and increased the awareness of different realities in which the people are living. Ruido Photo is also making workshops and documentaries concerning narratives about migration and racism. They show their work in exhibitions so that people can be part of experiences and lives that would otherwise not be exposed to them.

Another NGO that does a great job in bringing different voices into the fore and tackling disinformation is Nexes Inerculturals. Nexes is based in Barcelona and has been active for 20 years. They have innovated and blended the field of youth work with game-based learning for the topic of media and information literacy . A great example of this is their game “The Manipulator”, in which young people must recognise the validity of information and determine if certain content presented to them is true or not. Through such games, they learn and understand how media works and what type of media is appropriate to use.

Evaldas Rupkus also finds critical thinking to be the core of MIL, and he emphasises that there is a need in youth work to approach this in a systematic way. “I think that’s also the most important aspect. We simply accept that this is a skill you need to have if you want to survive in this world, as it is so much led by information technology. And we just cannot imagine our lives anymore without all the devices and all the information and media that we are consuming on a daily basis, be they advertisements, books, theatre pieces, TV shows or a radio station that you are listening to when taking a taxi. That’s why this is part of our daily lives.”

What to pay attention to in MIL education

Maria Cuoto Escudero from Nexes says that we are living in an IT society, and we need to engage young people and consider this media reality. She believes that education plays a big role in this regard. Educator and researcher Maria Murumaa-Mengel seconds this by saying that young people need to find balance in the world, because studies have shown that a trend of news avoidance among young people is prevailing.

Youth work and communication professional Hilma Ruokolainen adds that young people experience an information overload, which they have to face every day. “It’s often difficult for them to judge what is right and what is wrong, what is false, what is true. And youth work can help young people overcome this ambiguity and survive in the modern world, which is very complex and can sometimes be difficult to understand.”

Evaldas adds that in this continuous time of crisis, with COVID-19, the war in Ukraine or the ongoing climate crisis, this is something we need to consider and think of how we can support young people in navigating through.

As international youth work is built on the “peacebuilding” concept and NGOs are working daily on raising awareness of social polarisation, Maria Murumaa-Mengel reminds us that when we talk about big, abstract concepts like human rights and democracy, we’re really talking about almost all aspects of the lives of individual people. That’s always something to remember and highlight in all the areas that MIL deals with.

Dive in to find inspirational practices on MIL and the youth field!

Want to learn how organisations are tackling Media and Information Literacy in their work with young people? As part of the Media and Information Literacy Study Visit, short stories with videos were created to showcase how organisations and people actively use media to bring together communities, empower young people, stand up against racism and improve critical thinking skills.


Photo of Piret Jaaks
Piret Jaaks

Piret works as a freelance writer, journalist and public relations professional. She holds a PhD in Performing Arts and strives to weave ethnographic perspectives into all of her writing about people in our diverse world. Having worked for quite a while in the international civic movement World Cleanup Day, which focuses on promoting waste clean-ups around the globe, Piret knows well that the dark side of life must be talked about without embellishing it.  That’s why she believes that in today's fragmented world it is very important that all people have Media and Information Literacy skills in order to make the right decisions on important life issues.