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Teaching to spot misinformation (NYT)

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A child types on a laptop at a desk as two others look over his shoulder.

Finland is testing new ways to teach students about propaganda. Here’s what other countries can learn from its success.

A typical lesson that Saara Martikka, a teacher in Hameenlinna, Finland, gives her students goes like this: She presents her eighth graders with news articles. Together, they discuss: What’s the purpose of the article? How and when was it written? What are the author’s central claims?

“Just because it’s a good thing or it’s a nice thing doesn’t mean it’s true or it’s valid,” she said. In a class last month, she showed students three TikTok videos, and they discussed the creators’ motivations and the effect that the videos had on them.

Her goal, like that of teachers around Finland, is to help students learn to identify false information.

Finland ranked No. 1 of 41 European countries on resilience against misinformation for the fifth time in a row in a survey published in October by the Open Society Institute in Sofia, Bulgaria. Officials say Finland’s success is not just the result of its strong education system, which is one of the best in the world, but also because of a concerted effort to teach students about fake news. Media literacy is part of the national core curriculum starting in preschool.

“No matter what the teacher is teaching, whether it’s physical education or mathematics or language, you have to think, ‘OK, how do I include these elements in my work with children and young people?’” said Leo Pekkala, the director of Finland’s National Audiovisual Institute, which oversees media education.

After Finland, the European countries that ranked highest for resilience to misinformation in the Open Society Institute survey were Norway, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland and Sweden. The countries that were the most vulnerable to misinformation were Georgia, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania. The survey results were calculated based on scores for press freedom, the level of trust in society and scores in reading, science and math.

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