Media literacy education in Western Switzerland

by Jean-Claude Domenjoz, Media education and digital literacy expert, Switzerland.

Media literacy education is part of the curriculum of compulsory education in French-speaking Switzerland since 2011. In the Swiss Confederation, the cantons are responsible for compulsory education (The Swiss education system). Thanks to the Intercantonal Agreement on Harmonisation of Compulsory Education (HarmoS Agreement) the curricula was harmonised at the level of the linguistic regions. A decade ago the seven French-speaking cantons introduced a common compulsory curriculum that includes media literacy education (Plan d’études romand).

Media education is a cross-curricular subject that should be taught in situational way throughout the curriculum from grade 1 to grade 11. All teachers are expected to teach aspects of media and image literacy, as well as to supervise students’ use of multimedia tools in the classroom. At the heart of the programme is the progressive development of children’s critical thinking skills, in particular their ability to decode media content of all kinds (text, image, video, interactive multimedia).

In March 2021, the curriculum was revised to integrate computer literacy. The new subject area, named Digital Education, consists of three domains: media literacy, uses of digital tools and computer science. The purpose of the new curriculum is to develop “digital literacy and citizenship” among students in compulsory education. In addition, the Intercantonal Conference of Public Education in French and Italian speaking Switzerland (Conférence Intercantonale de l’Instruction Publique de la Suisse romande et du Tessin, Plan d’études romand, Éducation numérique 2021 – CIIP) has decided to extend this curriculum to all lower-secondary level courses, both in general education programmes (Baccalaureate schools and Upper secondary specialised schools) and in vocational education and training (VET).

Cross-curricular teaching that includes students’ use of connected devices in the classroom and critical thinking skills requires sound media knowledge and technical skills as well as the ability to implement appropriate didactic methods from every member of the teaching staff. Therefore, teacher training is crucial for the success of this reform. Howewer, the time devoted to media literacy education in initial teacher training is about 1 ECTS credit and the range of in-service training courses offered by the cantons is often fairly limited. Some cantons have recently launched or announced training programmes for in-service teachers, but it is too early to know what will actually be achieved.

The idea of integrating media literacy education into teacher training is not new. At federal level, the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education has published, since 2000, several recommendations on the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) in initial and in-service teacher training. It is interesting to note that initial and in-service teacher training in ICT (25 March 2004 Recommendations) is described as “embedded” (we underline) in a comprehensive media pedagogy, which includes the use of media for teaching and media literacy education.

The objectives and contents of initial and in-service teacher training in media literacy education are presented as follows in the Recommendations (our traduction): “Teachers have basic knowledge in the domain of media education […] and are able to critically analyse the effect of different media on children and adults; they can analyse audiovisual messages [and] are able to convey to their students an age-appropriate understanding of the use of sound, image and text and demonstrate their impact as well as to make them aware of the differences between reality and the way it is depicted.” In addition, teachers will be able to “use audiovisual technologies in their teaching and to guide their students’ audiovisual projects”.

Most recently, in June 2021, the Intercantonal Conference of Public Education in French and Italian speaking Switzerland (CIIP) published its “Competence Framework for Initial and In-Service Teacher Training in the Field of Digital Education”. This document (Référentiel de compétences pour la formation initiale et continue des dans le domaine de l’éducation numérique), based on the The European Framework for the Digital Competence of Educators (DigCompEdu), defines the entire field of professional, pedagogical and didactic competences in this area. It states that teachers must be able to “teach media literacy” (Teaching and learning domain), i.e. “implement strategies to develop students’ critical and selective thinking about the media and their ability to analyse, evaluate and produce content”, as well as to plan teaching sequences to develop these skills in their students.

However, if the reference framework does refer to the students’ study plan, it remains very vague on media-specific knowledge and skills, in particular the fundamental relational and interactional dimension of media use. This is problematic, because today the dominant medium of information and communication are image, sound and interactive multimedia, which have not been systematically taught up to now. Teachers are not prepared to interpret images and films with their students. Without proper training there is a serious risk that teachers who do not feel comfortable will limit themselves to minimal didactic contributions and will not encourage their pupils to work independently with connected devices. Despite being part of the curriculum, the production of multimedia content is unlikely to take place in most classrooms.

The integration of media literacy education into the compulsory school curriculum and the lower-secondary level courses has been a major step forward. However, its realisation is likely to be very difficult, as the entire educational system should in fact be rethought to integrate comprehensive media literacy education in the classroom.


Jean-Claude Domenjoz, Media education and digital literacy expert, Switzerland, author of “