Information Literacy in the 21st Century
Updated: Aug 19
Sunny is a 35-year old man. Few months back, when the whole country went into lockdown, Sunny started working from home, where he lived with his aged parents, wife and 2 year-old child. One fine day, Sunny felt feverish. His wife suggested getting a COVID test done. But, he denied. He assured everyone that he didn’t have COVID from a ‘certified self-test’ he had done. Few days later, the fever didn’t subside and Sunny also developed shortness of breath and finally decided to get tested. He was diagnosed with COVID and is now hospitalized. While Sunny might recover in some days, it is not the same for his parents. Both of them are now hooked up to a ventilator and are battling for their lives. Sunny feels guilty for not having followed his wife’s advice and possibly passing on the infection to his parents.
What was Sunny’s ‘certified self-test’ and why did it go wrong? Turns out, Sunny had received a message on social media from a certain group which read “Hold your breath for 10 seconds. If you can, you don’t have COVID, but if you cannot, you are COVID positive”. This message was written as if ‘signed’ by a certain doctor from their city. In this case, he not only put his family members’ lives at risk, but every person who believed in the message and forwarded it to others. Certainly, Sunny also received it from someone who believed in this message. This is just one case of falling prey to misinformation. We have no count of how many such people got severely infected due to different kinds of misinformation around COVID.
While this is just one case of false information resulting in a major crisis, there is an ocean of information, where people easily fall prey to claims on untested treatments and remedies for life-threatening conditions. This misinformation is not limited to the medical field, it also includes spinning narratives about our glorious past, falsely linking great discoveries to ancient India, and false claims of “science behind religious practices”.
Sunny could have asked questions like “An asthma patient or anyone with respiratory illness may not hold his/her breath for 10 seconds. Does that mean he/she has COVID?” Given the situation of ‘asymptomatic patients’ which Sunny was aware of, he could have also asked “can people with no symptoms hold their breath? If the test is so simple, why are people talking about shortage of testing kits, costs of tests, etc.? Why would a doctor, who has studied for many years, freely send a message through social media?”
When confronted with information, it is imperative to critically read through the it before believing in it and passing it on. How does one decide which information is true or which is false? The best way is to ask questions like “What is the source of this information? When was this published? Does it defy logic? Does it carry a religious, political or gender bias? What will be the consequences if I pass this information to others and it turns out to be false?Can I ask an expert?”
Information literacy is a part of the '21st century skills' highlighted in NEP 2020. Encouraging school students analyze a certain piece of information or a claim through this process will help them develop a quest for truth, scientific temper and unbiased thinking. Only when this skill should is imparted to students early on in their education, can we ensure development of ‘Information literacy’ and a peaceful, well-informed and responsible citizenry.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons, license: CC-0. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Social-media-communication.png)