Media Education in Finnish Upper Secondary Schools
Inkeri Silvennoinen, Spring 2005 (GB)
A FAST-FIN-1 (TRENPP2C) Finnish Institutions Student Paper
FAST Area Studies Program
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
The mass media play an important role in today's society. People are
confronted daily by a flood of messages from the different media. Media
literacy is required to properly understand these messages. It is the
responsibility of Finland's educational institutions to train its citizens
in media literacy. Among the objectives is how to cope with "information
overload" the deluge of new and even contradictory information
presented daily by the media.
In Finland, basic media education is a part of the curriculum of the
comprehensive and upper secondary schools. In addition, several upper
secondary schools offer special media programmes from which students can
choose. What is the advantage of these specialised programmes? Why is it
important to learn about the media? What do the students in special media
programmes gain that those who study in the basic secondary school
curriculum do not?
This paper will outline the structure and goals of media education
programmes in Finnish upper secondary schools. It will also present some
differences in media behaviour between media students and other students
in Messukylä Upper Secondary School in Tampere, as studied during March
What is Media Education?
"Media" as defined in this paper includes both print (newspapers,
magazines) and electronic media (television, radio, Internet, movies, and
to some extent cellular phones). They comprise what is usually referred to
when speaking of "mass media and communications", and they are also the
media which are most familiar to most Finns (TNS Gallup).
"Media education" means the skills and knowledge Finnish students
receive in their comprehensive and upper secondary schools, both in the
core curriculum and in special media programmes. Media education is mainly
the responsibility of the schools, but there are also private associations
that provide media education via printed or electronic publications. The
aim of all media education is to develop media literacy skills. People
should be more aware of the ways they use media, and, when needed, be able
to criticize information conveyed by the media (Suoninen 22-34, 248-251).
This paper will not cover media education beyond the secondary level;
programmes in universities and polytechnics are not included.
The Need for Media Education in Finland
As a small nation the Finnish people have to be aware of what happens
outside the boundaries of their country. Mass media can offer people an
opportunity to follow the events of the whole world. According to one
survey, Finns spend altogether 9 hours and 20 minutes with different media
every day (TNS Gallup). In the overwhelming offerings, it is easy to get
"lost" in information, and suffer from "information overload". An ability
to properly filter and interpret the information is needed.
Small nations also have a need to be internationally active. In
addition to providing Finns with information, the media can also help
disseminate Finnish culture abroad. By using the media in this way,
Finland can make its culture better known to people all around the world.
Media education is important, because the ability to interpret media
messages is an important civil skill: it helps one filter out information
that may be untrue, and understand the world in general (Lepomäki). The
need for media education has emerged in the last 40 years particularly as
a result of the radical change in the media environment. In the 1960's,
only one third of today's media even existed, and some of those were not
in the reach of every family (Suoninen 35-41). Nowadays, media education
is a part of every Finnish comprehensive school's curriculum. It is a
cross-curricular theme, which means that it is not taught as a separate
subject: instead, its main points are covered in several other subjects
In the Finnish school system, every child starts comprehensive school
at the age of seven. Comprehensive school consists of primary school, six
years, and secondary school, three years. After that, students can either
go to a vocational school or an upper secondary school, or start working,
but all education after the comprehensive school is optional. There are so
many other important things to teach to the pupils in comprehensive school
that especially "vague" subjects like media education are easily
forgotten, or given less time in classes. Since around 60% of pupils
continue to an upper secondary school, media and communications are an
important cross-curricular theme in their programmes as well (Finnish,
National; Ministry of Education). There are also several optional
multi-course media programmes offered in altogether 23 senior secondary
schools in Finland (Sinko).
Mrs Outi Lepomäki, Finnish language teacher and the teacher in charge
of the media programme in Messukylä Upper Secondary School, says that the
media have become such an important part of the students' everyday life
that the schools can not ignore it in the curriculum. According to
Lepomäki, there has to be a place where young people can stop to think and
analyse the messages they receive, and see more clearly the effect the
media have on people through the overwhelming offerings. In Finland the
situation is good: the aims of media education presented in the curriculum
are not only cognitive but also have a strong connection with the reality
every student lives in.
But what is it that the students should learn about the media, and how?
The researcher Annikka Suoninen, who has been called a "media
sociologist", has studied the use of media by young people. She has
extended the concept of media literacy to media proficiency, or "media
language skills". This refers to the way people choose, use, and interpret
the different media and their messages as a part of their lives, with an
emphasis on their own choice, needs, and abilities to produce these
messages themselves (24-29). To become a proficient media user, a person
has to have varied experience of the different media and their working
principles. In the special media programmes that are offered in some upper
secondary schools, the main point is to learn media criticism and media
literacy not only in theory, but also in practise. The students learn how
to plan and produce messages for different media, how to use the equipment
and the special "tricks" each medium has, how to critically interpret what
they see, hear or read, and how and why the message in question was
produced the way it was (Messukylä, Viestintä).
Traditional media education can be divided into two parts: media
education and expressive learning.1 The
first part is then subdivided into actual media education, where students
study the media and their messages, and using media in studies, where the
media are used as a study tool or as material to learn something in
another subject. For example, working with the same electronic newspaper
at school can be "media education" for some students, and a "study tool"
for others (see Härkönen in Penttilä 4.1.).
Media Programmes and National Curriculum for Upper
In 2004, there were only two upper secondary schools in Finland that
offered an entire media programme that could be chosen separately. One of
them was Juhana Herttua Upper Secondary School in Turku, where the
concentration is on both arts and media, and the other one was Messukylä
Upper Secondary School in Tampere. Messukylä Upper Secondary School was
the first media-oriented upper secondary school in Finland. In 1997 it was
given a special assignment by the Finnish Board of Education to offer a
full media programme (Finnish, Erityistehtävän; Messukylä, Much Ado).
Starting from 2002, altogether 23 senior secondary schools have offered
the media diploma course, where students can take some media courses and
show their special skills in whatever media field they know best (Sinko).
To graduate from upper secondary school, students must complete at
least 75 courses. Of these, 45 to 49 are obligatory. The rest can be
chosen from specialised and applied courses in different subjects. The
media programme in Messukylä Upper Secondary School consists of at least
12 media courses that the students can choose out of about 30
possibilities (Messukylä, Much Ado). There is no upper limit to the number
of courses that can be taken in upper secondary school, but to compensate
for the extra courses in the media programme, media students can choose to
leave out altogether 8 of the obligatory courses in the core curriculum.
Nowadays, there are approximately 100 students taken in every year, 36 of
whom have chosen the media programme (Messukylä, Hakuohje).
Every media student has to take basic courses in journalism,
photography, sound techniques, and video making or drama. In all these
subjects, there are also advanced courses that the students may choose to
take if they are interested in the subject. The rest of the courses can be
chosen from a variety of project courses like producing a radio programme,
editing the school's electronic newspaper, making a short documentary for
the local TV station, creating a web page, etc., or from the more
theoretical courses offered in media criticism, modern popular culture,
script writing or movie criticism (Messukylä, Viestintä). Instead of
school teachers, the media courses are taught by media professionals.
During the media programme the students should learn to use their
analytical knowledge in practise, and combine their roles as a receiver
and a sender (Lepomäki). Most of the different media courses are open to
all students, but they are clearly more popular among the media students.
In Messukylä Upper Secondary School the official aim of the media
programme is to develop the students' media literacy. The students should
learn to categorise and interpret the messages of different media, define
the background factors for each message, express themselves by the means
of the media and each medium's technique, and deal with ethical and
aesthetic questions in both producing and using the media (Messukylä,
Viestintä). This corresponds well with Suoninen's idea of media
proficiency. In the national curriculum for upper secondary schools the
emphasis is on the student's role as a receiver of the media's messages.
The following extract is from the new curriculum to be taken into use in
General upper secondary education must provide
students with instruction and modes of operation that will enable them to
consolidate their understanding of the key role and significance of the
media in our culture. Upper secondary schools must reinforce the active
relationship of students with the media, their interaction skills and
their co-operation with the local/regional media. Students will be guided
to understand the effects of the media and the role of the media as an
entertainer and provider of sensations, conveyor of information and
opinion former, provider of behavioural models and sense of community, and
as a shaper of world views and self-image. Students will observe and
critically analyse the relationship between the world as described by the
media and reality. Students will learn to protect their privacy, safety
and data security when moving about in media environments. (Finnish,
Some of these topics were also included in the old curriculum, but it
had been criticised as being too technology-centred. Media education had
mostly been dealt with in Finnish language classes (Penttilä). The new
curriculum, however, defines more specific objectives of learning, which
now have to be taken into consideration in every subject. The main
objectives are for the students to:
- acquire sufficient
skills to interpret and receive messages: they will learn media criticism
in terms of their choices and interpretations of media texts, as well as
social skills and knowledge needed by consumers
- know how to deal with
ethical and aesthetic issues: they will learn to assume responsibility in
terms of media content production and use and their own media behaviour
- become accustomed to using the media as a learning tool and
environment, learn how to use media in study-related interactive
situations and for the acquisition and communication of information.
However, most of the teachers have not been educated to work with these
issues. The teachers are, to a certain point, given free rein with how the
curriculum is fulfilled, and since media education has earlier mainly
concerned only Finnish, arts and history classes, other teachers are now
being presented a large number of new challenges with the new curriculum.
But if the new system works the way it should, the students should
definitely acquire more of these set objectives than before (Lepomäki).
Survey of the Students in Messukylä Upper Secondary
Even though the aims of the media programme are defined in great detail,
the actual learning process is different for every student. Each student
will have different media interests, and a different background. To find
out whether the media courses actually affect the students' media
behaviour, and what differences in media usage might exist between an
average upper secondary school student and an average media student, all
second-grade students in Messukylä Upper Secondary School were asked to
answer a questionnaire concerning their views on different media and the
media education they had received during the upper secondary
school.3 The survey was conducted in March
2005. In total, 92 students completed the questionnaire; 30 of these were
The Usage of Media
The first three questions were about media usage.4 The students were asked which media they used
daily, which weekly, and how much time they actively use with different
media every day. They were also asked whether they themselves had produced
any content for one or more media, either as a school assignment or for
The results show that media students, on average, use different media
more than the students who are not taking the special media programme. As
shown in Picture 1, Daily Use of Media, other students use the most common
media (television, radio, newspapers, movies) more than media students,
whereas the Internet and magazines are clearly more used by the media
students. Picture 2 shows that when regarding weekly use, media students
more often use all the media in question, except for the radio. TV was the
most-used medium among all students.
The pictures below show the differences between media students and
Pictures 1 (L) and 2 (R): Each
number corresponds with a medium:
1=television, 2=radio, 3=newspapers, 4=magazines, 5=electronic newspapers,
6=Internet, 7=cellular phone, and 8=movies.
Picture 1: Note the use of television, magazines, electronic newspapers,
and the Internet.
Picture 2: Media students use all media more except
for the radio.
Graphs and data: Inkeri Silvennoinen.
The students were also asked to estimate the average time
they spent actively with different media every day. The average time for
media students was 2.54 hours, and for other students slightly less, 2.34
hours. There were more media students than other students who reported
spending five or more hours actively with different media every day, and
accordingly fewer media students than others who reported spending only
less than one hour per day with different media.
Pictures 3 (L) and 4 (R): Media students spent on average twelve minutes
more with different media every day.
Graphs and data: Inkeri Silvennoinen.
90% of the media students and 52% of the other students also reported
having produced content for at least one medium. This included articles in
newspapers or electronic publications, TV or radio programmes, short
films, and web pages.
Attitudes towards Media and Media Education
Next, the students were asked to list the media they found the most
reliable. The students answered that they found newspapers and television
to be the most trusted media. The least trusted medium was the Internet
(not including electronic newspapers). Most students wrote that this was
because the traditional media have a certain status and are more
supervised, whereas the Internet is a new medium, and anyone can put
online any information regardless of its origin or even legality. The
results were not surprising, since television, radio and newspapers are
the most familiar media to young people according to a national
study they reach people best (TNS Gallup).
When searching for information, students mainly used newspapers and the
Internet. Also encyclopaedias and other literature were mentioned;
television, radio and magazines were considered important sources of
information as well. Even though television was a source of information
for many students, it was primarily seen in the role of an entertainer: 75
out of 92 students listed it as the most or second-most important provider
of entertainment. Other important media for entertainment were the
Internet, magazines and movies: nearly one fifth of all students reported
that they watched movies daily.
These results support the idea that there truly is a strong need for
media education: when the media are everywhere, and only in the background
but also in very active use, young people need skills in media literacy.
According to Mrs Lepomäki, the basic courses in all media fields are found
to be the most effective courses in developing the student's media
literacy. There are also specialised courses in, for example, media and
movie criticism, but the basic courses in the actual production of media
content create a solid base for learning to observe the media in a new
The students seem to agree: media students were asked whether or not
and how their image of the media had changed during the media courses. 97%
answered that it had changed, and 10% that it had changed substantially.
Other students were asked to list the subjects in which they had received
media education. 33 students answered Finnish, 28 history and social
studies, and 18 foreign languages. Studies in automatic data processing
and psychology were also mentioned. 48% of the students reported that
their image of the media had changed during upper secondary school. 58%
reported that their media criticism had increased the same
percentage of media students was a full 100%. Almost all of the media
students said that the most important courses for increasing their media
criticism had been the two journalism courses and the project courses in
Conclusions from the Survey
Did the media students get what they wanted when they chose the media
programme? The reasons for choosing it were for most students the same:
they were interested in working within the media, and they wanted to do
something different than just basic secondary school courses. Many said
that the best thing in the media programme had been the practical
approach. There were some complaints about the level of teaching and the
equipment, but overall the students were happy with the media programme.
Of those who were not media students, 14% wished there would be more media
education in the curriculum.
The results show a clear difference between the students who are taking
the media programme and those who are not. This shows not only their
interest in media, but also that the education they have received has
influenced their habits of using the media. It has given the media
students an ability to critically interpret the messages in the different
media, and also to prepare and produce those messages themselves.
Even though the media courses do not directly affect learning in other
courses, they do improve the students' ability to observe their
environment in a more active way. For example, in the Finnish essays in
the matriculation examination (the final examination in upper secondary
school), the effect of the media courses is not shown on the language
level, but rather in the way of making analytical observations, and having
something original to say about phenomena in today's society. The media
programme also has more concrete advantages: the students can use their
skills when applying for a study place in a polytechnic or a university
The media have become a very popular subject to study: they are
everywhere, and they are developing constantly. In Finland, at the moment,
media can already be studied in several universities and polytechnics. For
example, in Tampere Polytechnic, there is a School of Art and Media, and
media and communications can also be studied in several other
polytechnics. A Master's degree in the fields of media and communications
can be taken in at least four universities (Finnish, Yliopistojen,
Ammattikorkeakoulujen). Many secondary-level media students wish to
continue their media studies at the tertiary level, and the media diploma
or other media studies they do in upper secondary school may help them to
get a study place.
Requirements for the Upper Secondary School Media Diploma
The upper secondary school's task is to provide good common knowledge
in every subject. However, the courses available in the curriculum and the
matriculation examination concentrate mainly on languages and sciences
(Finnish, National). In order to show their skills in other subjects,
students may take a diploma course in the subject in question. It is
possible to take diploma courses in arts, music, and even physical
education. A diploma course is a demonstration of the student's skills in
the form of practical work: the students can, for example, prepare a
performance or an exhibition, or take part in a competition.
Earning the diploma, which is a separate certificate, requires a
certain number of completed courses in the subject in question. Since
2001, it has also been possible in some schools to take a media diploma
course, where the student can choose a medium and produce content for it,
preferably to be published in the medium in question. In order to take the
diploma, the student has to take at least 4 media courses during upper
secondary school (Finnish, Median; Sinko). At the moment, the media
diploma course is offered in 23 upper secondary schools, but from autumn
2005, taking the media diploma course will become possible for all
students, regardless of the media programmes offered in their school. Due
to this, Messukylä Upper Secondary School is also opening all its media
courses to all students in Messukylä (Lepomäki).
The media diploma consists of a written part, 1/3 of the grade, and the
actual content, 2/3 of the grade. The written part, a "media biography"
and a journal of producing the chosen work, evaluates the student's
ability in media criticism and knowledge of the terms of the chosen media
field. The student should also be able to connect his or her work into a
wider context, and consider the effects of the media in general. The work
itself evaluates the student's ability to properly plan and produce the
message and use the needed equipment. The media diploma is graded from 1
to 5, with 5 being the highest grade (Finnish, Media diploma; Lepomäki).
Messukylä Upper Secondary School was one of the first schools to offer
the media diploma course. Since the beginning, it has been very popular
among the students. Several students take the diploma course every year.
The chosen works have been collections of newspaper articles, documentary
films, image reportages, radio programmes, etc (Lepomäki). Outi Lepomäki
says that it is a perfect way for the students to show the skills they
have achieved during the media programme or through independent projects,
and get credit for what they have learned. It is also an opportunity to
produce media content independently, without a group of other students in
the same project. 2
Positive Changes in Media Education
The mass media are constantly changing. In Finland, the polytechnics and
universities are producing hundreds of new media professionals every year,
and new technologies continue to develop rapidly. The one thing that will
not change is the need for media literacy. Media education must be within
reach of everyone. Upper secondary schools will do their part in the
future as well, but they must not be the only source of media education.
With the new curriculum in upper secondary schools, many things will
change for the better. Media education will be more thorough; when the
media diploma courses, and possibly also all other media courses, are
opened to all students in the school, and not just media diploma students,
every upper secondary student should have an equal opportunity to become a
proficient media user. This is what Finland needs: citizens who are
media-literate and media-proficient.
The ability to communicate via the media will help in whatever
profession the students choose, because media competence will be a
requirement for almost all future professions. When one has learned how to
understand the media, one will be able to distinguish between what
information is relevant and what is not. With that ability, people will no
longer need to be afraid of being "lost" in information, overwhelmed by
- Expressive learning is not relevant to the topic of this paper, so
it is not described.
- Based on the author's personal experience.
- The questionnaire was in Finnish; it is appended to this paper in
DOC format. It consisted of both
multiple choice and open questions.
- Cellular phones were also included in the list of media because of
their third-generation technologies that allow them to be used as
- Finnish National Board of Education. National Core Curriculum for
Upper Secondary Schools 2003. Vammala: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy, 2004.
- - - -. Perusopetuksen opetussuunnitelman perusteet 2004 [National
Core Curriculum for Comprehensive Schools 2004]. Vammala: Vammalan
Kirjapaino Oy, 2004. 39-40.
- - - -. Median
lukiodiplomi 2004-2005 [The Media Diploma in Upper Secondary
School]. A PDF file. Visited 8th April, 2005.
- - - -. General
Upper Secondary Education. Viewed 8th April, 2005.
- - - -. Erityistehtävän
saaneet lukiot [Upper Secondary Schools with Special Assignments].
A PDF file. Viewed 8th April, 2005. Pages 1 and 2.
- - - -. Yliopistojen valintaopas 2004 [Applying in Universities
2004]. Rauma: Kirjapaino Oy West Point. 2004.
- - - -. Ammattikorkeakoulujen valintaopas 2004 [Applying in
Polytechnics 2004]. Rauma: Kirjapaino Oy West Point. 2004.
- Lepomäki, Outi. Personal interview. April 4, 2005.
- Messukylä Upper Secondary School. Viestintä [The aims
of the media programme and the contents of the courses]. A PDF
file. Visited 8th of April, 2005.
- - - -. Much ado...
about quite a lot. English presentation of the school. Viewed 8th
- - - -. Hakuohje [Applying
in the school]. Viewed 8th April, 2005.
- Ministry of Education. Nuoruus
Suomessa -julkaisu: Nuorten arvot ovat perinteisiä [Young People in
Finland -publication]. An article in the Ministry of Education's
electronic newspaper. Viewed 8th April, 2005.
- Penttilä, Janne, and Aili Vihtakari. Verkkolehdet
ja oppiminen [Web papers and learning]. Viewed 23rd of February
- Sinko, Pirjo . Counsellor of education in Ministry
of Education. VS: Mediadiplomikouluista [About the media diploma
schools]. An e-mail sent to Outi Lepomäki on March 31, 2005.
- Suoninen, Annikka. Mediakielitaidon jäljillä [In Search for Media
Language Skills]. Saarijärvi: Gummerus kirjapaino Oy, 2004.
- TNS Gallup. Intermediatutkimus
2004. 31st August 2004. A press release about the Intermedia-survey
2004. A PDF file.
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