Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Quiet Please! Children Talking

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Quiet Please! Children Talking

Article excerpt

Armed with microphones, tape recorders and cameras, the schoolchildren of Buenos Aires are learning to express their opinions and look at the news with a critical eye

The teacher asks her pupils to listen to the tape of a radio news item in which a government official says immigrants are to blame for other people being out of work. The statement makes a strong impact. The children, fifth grade pupils at a school in the Parque Avellaneda district of Buenos Aires, fall silent. Then Amparo, a 10-year-old Bolivian girl, speaks up. "When I was in hospital," she says, "they didn't want me to stay. They shouted at my mother and said: 'go back to your country.' They didn't give my father a job because he's Bolivian."

The news story, and Amparo's reaction to it, gave the children the idea of choosing "Immigrants at School" as a topic for their radio broadcasting workshop.

"We chose the subject because most of the children here are Bolivian," says the school librarian, Fany Opino. "The first thing we do is collect information. Then we rehearse the programme before it goes on the air. But the most important thing is that the children not only think about a situation they come up against every day, but that they feel they're being listened to."

The radio workshop is part of a Media Production in Schools scheme started up 10 years ago by the Journalism, Communications and Education Committee of the city of Buenos Aires. The scheme is known as the child journalist project but its aim is not so much to train young reporters as to increase the children's capacity to express their opinions and to use the media to help them to think for themselves.

For the "Immigrants at School" workshop, the children were asked to go out and interview immigrants, in some cases their own relatives. They wrote up their reports, read them out in class and discussed them. Then they collected material about racial discrimination from books and magazines. Finally, they worked out a structure, chose some music and put their radio programme together.

In the child journalist scheme, the process whereby children investigate, discuss, defend their opinions and listen to others, is more important than the end product, whether it be a newspaper, a video or a radio programme. In other words, the school is given the key task of training citizens who can think critically about the world they live in. "The workshop on immigrants helped me to understand why people sometimes shout at me in the street," says Maria Esperanza, another Bolivian pupil.

According to the teacher, making the radio programme enabled the children to know what it feels like to be rejected because of skin colour or place of origin. It also taught them to look at radio and television news with a critical eye and, through their own communication media, to protest against the plight of those who feel victimized.

Producing radio programmes and magazines is a well-established activity in many countries' education systems. The Argentine programme has some unique features, however, because of the political and social context in which it developed in the late 1980s. The long years of military dictatorship and censorship had instilled a culture of silence into Argentine society. Within communities, the lines of communication were broken or frayed. The media production project seemed to be a good option for strengthening democratic practices via the school and for repairing the social fabric by building bridges between the school and the community and teaching children to interpret critically messages transmitted by the media.

Breaking the culture of silence

This objective may well be the key factor in the success of a programme which has managed to survive both lack of funding and political vicissitudes. In 10 years, the number of schools involved has grown from 34 to more than 200, most of them in poor neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. …

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