The relationship between young people and the media is always a complex one. On the one hand, their experiences as part of the audience are often extremely positive, with their media tastes and pleasures playing a big part in the whole construction of their own identity; on the other hand, they are often quite worried about the ways in which media might have a negative impact upon other young people (especially those younger than themselves). This ambiguity is further complicated by the ways in which they find themselves represented by the media- often demonised (‘hoodies, louts, scum’) or pathologised as victims (young girls and body image, the radicalization agenda).
Despite, or perhaps because of, this melting pot of ambiguity, young people are often drawn towards study of the media and sometimes a desire for a career in it. In the UK, the study of the media has gradually been stripped out of the national curriculum, with almost no mention of it all remaining in the most recent version, with the only spaces for classroom study being in academic and vocational courses for public assessment at 14-19. Even that small space has long been an object of ridicule (mickey mouse courses) and this summer came under severe threat in the final phase of the reform of GCSE and A level, when education minister Nick Gibb and his civil servants attempted to undermine media studies and film studies with direct intervention in the content of future courses and what looked like an attempt to get them dumped altogether.
As a teacher of media studies over many years, I have seen the enthusiasm and commitment with which young people approach the subject, having the opportunity to exhibit skills (and be assessed on them) which other school subjects tend to undervalue, such as teamwork, confidence, research, planning, organization and reflection. It is also a rare area of the curriculum in which some quite high level skills with digital technologies can be demonstrated, as well as producing work for a real audience- something which very few students ever get to do.
Over the last three years, I have had the privilege of being the project lead of the BFI Film Academy residential course for young filmmakers at the National Film and Television School, where 66 of the most talented 16-19 year olds from all over the UK come together for a fortnight each year to work together making six short films which are shown on the final day of the residential at the BFI South Bank to an invited audience of around 300 people. Students come from far and wide- Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee, Derry, Belfast, Armagh, Newport (South Wales) and every major city in England as well as many rural areas were all represented at last year’s residential. They don’t know each other when they arrive, but they quickly start to work in their teams with common goals. Often working till late in the evening planning their projects, they take on their roles as writers, directors, producers, sound recordists, editors, production designers and cinematographers with great energy.
By the end of the fortnight they have produced short films which stand up well against professional productions, working with great professionalism with their mentors and directing professional actors. Their films are accepted by festivals all over the UK and in some cases overseas, including Russia and Poland. These are the same young people who opt for the ‘mickey mouse’ courses so reviled by politicians and journalists, showing the ‘grit and determination’ on Nicky Morgan’s education agenda without having to be trained by troops or forced to play rugby. The skills and attributes they show are the sort we are constantly told are essential to the future of the economy. Many will go on to work in the media one day, but they are under no illusion that it is an easy route to riches; indeed most, once they leave the academy residential, start working on projects together for free, raising funds by their own efforts and eagerly grasping any unpaid work experience opportunity that comes along with the intention of learning from it for their own development.
These young people have an amazing opportunity, which they grasp with both hands, but I do not believe they are any different from most young people, whatever their aptitude or chosen field. Young people want to learn, to work hard with one another, to have the chance to build their skills and be creative, whatever that may mean. The findings of the Celebyouth project bear this out. Aspirations are not tied to unrealistic expectations about celebrity any more than they should be tied to the STEM agenda or to an education system based on ED Hirsch’s ‘core knowledge’ so favoured by the current education ministers. Schools need more opportunities for young people to engage with the media and to do interesting things. They really would rise to the challenge!
About the author: Pete Fraser has taught media and film since 1984. He is Chief Examiner for media studies A level, teaches the media component of the new Goldsmiths PGCE in Media with English at The English and Media Centre in Islington leads the BFI Film Academy residential at the National Film and Television School and is currently putting together a free online course on animation for FutureLearn.
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