Media literacy is barely taught in seven African countries, with only South Africa presenting elements of misinformation literacy, according to a recently-release report of a study titled Misinformation Policy in sub-Saharan Africa.

The study was conducted by the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI) of the University of Westminster, in the United Kingdom, into what it termed “misinformation literacy is its own sub-type, distinct from both media literacy and even news literacy”.

The study found that media literacy, “even in the broadest sense”, was barely taught in six out of the seven countries studied as of June 2020, and no form of misinformation literacy was taught, at all, except in one province in South Africa. The studied countries were Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.

The study was meant to probe “the types, drivers and effects of misinformation spread in sub-Saharan Africa today, and, on the other hand, three approaches to reducing associated harms: (i) fact-checking, (ii) changes to the legal and regulatory framework for media and information and (iii) media or misinformation literacy”, the report reads.

The reported noted that in the past few years, false and misleading information had caused or contributed to a wide range of harm to individuals and groups across Africa, ranging from vigilante violence and civil unrest in Ethiopia and Nigeria, through the use of wrong medical treatments for Ebola, malaria or Covid-19, to harms to mental health, politics, businesses and much more. It contains a proposed theory of “misinformation literacy” –  six fields of specific knowledge and skills required to reduce students’ susceptibility to false and misleading claims. It has offered five recommendations for the promotion of misinformation literacy in schools, to reduce the harm misinformation causes:

  • Ministers order misinformation literacy to be part of school curricula.
  • Ministers ensure the necessary teacher training, resources and support for schools.
  • Teachers’ leaders engage with the subject, introduce assessments with benchmarks.
  • Traditional media and tech firms promote transparency and misinformation literacy on their platforms.
  • Public figures and institutions set norms of accuracy and honesty, not spreading false information.

Politicians, traditional media and tech companies, all the source of much misinformation, all have an enormous responsibility to set norms of good practices of checking information before sharing, correcting false information and transparency about how they work, the report advised.