CYSCA Panel Explores Media Literacy in Armenia at NAASR

OCTOBER 11, 2017

BELMONT, Mass. — On October 5 a panel discussion on “Expanding Inclusion of Media Literacy in Education in Armenia: Challenges and Opportunities” showcased a delegation of Armenian educators and media specialists at the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) headquarters. The event was hosted by the Cambridge-Yerevan Sister City Association (CYSCA) and NAASR/Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation Lecture Series on Contemporary Armenian Issues.

After NAASR Director of Academic Affairs Marc Mamigonian welcomed the audience, and CYSCA Program Director Alisa Stepanian provided general information, each speaker introduced herself briefly. The five specialists from Armenia were accompanied by a facilitator, Anahit Khachatryan, who currently is also project management specialist for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Armenia, and is the initiator of the US trip project. Khachatryan ably and quickly interpreted from Armenian to English for the audience, and the other way around for the panelists who were not fluent in English.

Panelist Siranush Galstyan is a smart room coordinator for the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF). The COAF smart rooms in Armenian villages are independent places providing children access to technology and training free of charge. Later in the program it was explained that some include English classes, robotics, media training and community advancement programs. There are six smart rooms in Lori province, two in Tavush province, and similar rooms hosted in schools in other provinces called creative rooms.

Armine Khloyan is a sociology teacher and the head of a robotics lab at a high school adjacent to the Yerevan State Polytechnic Institute. While this combination might seem unusual, she explained that both disciplines help students put theoretical knowledge to practice. She said, “With social studies we try to instill critical thinking, and with robotics, creative thinking.”

Shushanik (Shushan) Ohanyan is the project manager for the Goris Press Club non-governmental organization. As part of her duties, she runs the Syunik Infohouse. There are Infohouses in eight cities of Armenia which give general information on media literacy and the tools for young people to be better media consumers. She also is a trainer herself in media literacy.

Nina Ganjalyan, like Galstyan, is a smart room coordinator for COAF, and also gives classes in media literacy. She works in Koti, a border community in Tavush Province near Azerbaijan. Lusine Grigoryan is a media literacy specialist for the Media Initiatives Center, a non-governmental organization promoting media literacy in Armenia.

Joining the visiting Armenians was Associate Prof. Dr. Rosemarie J. Conforti of Southern Connecticut State University (New Haven), who has visited Armenia to study media literacy programs there.

Grigoryan gave a PowerPoint presentation to provide basic information about her and her colleagues’ work. She pointed out that about one million Armenians are on Facebook. There are about 20 radio and 30 television stations in Armenia, and television remains the most influential form of media. She also said that the Armenian press according to Freedom House and other surveys, is categorized as not free, unlike the internet in Armenia. Her center, founded in 1995, used to be called Internews Media Support NGO until 2013. She said it works to protect the rights of journalists, improve their professional skills, provide technical support, and offer projects to build their capacity. She said that after working with professionals for some 20 years, they realized that more had to be done, and said, “We need consumers who understand what is good and bad and demand what they want from the journalists.”

The Media Initiatives Center, Grigoryan said, has published a handbook for teachers on media literacy, which includes lesson plans, theoretical articles, links, resources and even a game (on a DVD). The handbook is approved as extracurricular material for public schools, but no money is allocated for training to use it. Nonetheless, some 400 teachers, museum specialists and informal teachers have been trained on its use. The Center attempts to get the Armenian state to understand the importance of media literacy, and require the training of teachers. At present, a memorandum of understanding has been signed with the Ministry of Education. Grigoryan said that the state is “happy that we are doing this. We hope we will be able to do more things in the future.”

The Media Initiatives Center website, Grigoryan said, is the only critical and analytical media site in Armenia. The media literacy game it showcases is quite popular, and has been translated into Ukrainian, Romanian and Belorussian for other people to use. A second game, called the “Adventures of Literatus,” hopefully will be completed by the end of this year. The Center runs annual “I am the media” student contests. The Center is funded, Grigoryan said, largely by USAID, though it also has other donors.

The Center had a Mobile Media Museum. Its first exhibition was devoted to the earthquake of 1988. An excerpt from its video on this was screened for the audience. It examines how the media covered and affected events. It was one of the first times international media came to the Soviet Union. A second exhibition is being prepared on how media covers corruption. Other possible topics include the Karabakh war.

The group came to the US on September 27, arriving in Washington, D.C., and stayed in Boston from September 29 to October 7. Their trip was funded by the Open World Leadership Center of the US Library of Congress, and implemented by CYSCA.

CYSCA organized visits in the Boston area with the Massachusetts Media Literacy Consortium, public radio station WGBH, public schools, Emerson College, University of Massachusetts Boston, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. They met with Massachusetts State Representative David M. Rogers of Cambridge, who is promoting a bill for media education, and had an “Armenian day,” visiting the two Armenian American newspapers of Watertown.

They met with Steve Kurkjian of the Boston Globe, and learned about the history of Armenian Heritage Park from Donald Tellalian.

When asked by Stepanian to comment on their meetings, Ganjalyan highlighted the meeting at Swampscott High School, and said, “There we witnessed high school students who are already we can say experts in media literacy.” They were trained in this from an early age, so, Ganjalyan concluded, “Now I know that once I go back to Armenia the first thing I am going to do is to adapt my training for younger students.” In addition, she saw how useful it will be to organize media training for parents.

Ohanyan added that “the relations between teachers and students are very enviable.” Khloyan agreed. Both felt that Armenia lacked access to the equipment and resources available to teachers in the US, such as computers and projectors, so various adaptations must be made to approaches. Khloyan said that while in the US current news is analyzed, there is a lag time in Armenia.

Galstyan said after meeting with Rep. Rogers, “I really appreciated the involvement of political figures in media literacy.” She thought that national level policy on media literacy was lacking, and when she returned to Armenia, she said, she would attempt to make media literacy issues heard on the governmental level.

Grigoryan spoke about the similarities she witnessed. The American organization Media Literacy Now was working with little resources and volunteers. Schools in the US, she said, appear more independent from the government than in Armenia.

Stepanian asked Prof. Conforti about her impressions and recommendations about Armenia. Conforti exclaimed, “I am so impressed by the work that these women do.”

Among the similarities she saw during her visit to Yerevan are the need for resources, time, and questioning. She said, “One of my mentors while I was in school said that to ask is to break the spell.” Young people must learn, she said, to ask who made a picture or website, and who profits.

Among the differences between the two societies are the emphasis on print culture in Armenia versus visual media in the US. She said, “I was very impressed that while in Yerevan, the students are far more interested in political and activist work than our students are. Here they are more interested in getting in a glamor industry through the media.” In the US, she said, we focus more on race, class and gender, while in Armenia, on telling the truth.

She said that the US has different states with different ideas of what should be on the curriculum for media literacy, but Armenia, much smaller, “maybe has a better shot at forming a more coherent curriculum.”

Stepanian closed the formal portion of the presentation by thanking NAASR and the families with whom the visitors were staying, namely, Berge and Arpine Ayvazian, Gary and Natalia Markosyan, Roxanne Etmekjian and Nerses Joubanian, and Robert and Helen Kalantari. The audience then had an opportunity to ask the panelists questions.

Among the points brought up were that the youth in Armenia use online resources more than older people, who are greatly influenced by television. Television news is more restricted than the variety of online resources available. Russian media is more influential than Western in Armenia since the Russian language is more widely known.

When asked whether the Armenian government really wants media literacy to spread, Girgoryan replied that there were many reforms in Armenia and the education system was being reformed. She said that relations with the Ministry of Education were quite good so far, as it understood that media literacy is a “must-have” in education in the 21st century.

The guests received American media coverage themselves during their trip.  Gayla Cawley in the Lynn Item wrote about their visit to Swampscott High School (“Swampscott helps Armenian educators expand their curriculum,” October 5), hosted by media literacy teacher Thomas Reid.