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Active citizenship and participation through the media: a community project focused on pre-school and primary school children

Exercício de cidadania ativa e participação através dos média: um projeto comunitário focado em crianças do Pré-escolar e 1º Ciclo
Vítor Tomé, Paula Lopes, Bruno Reis e Carlos Pedro Dias
Tradução de Vítor Tomé, Paula Lopes, Bruno Reis e Carlos Pedro Dias
p. 101-120
Este artigo é uma tradução do:
Exercício de cidadania ativa e participação através dos média: um projeto comunitário focado em crianças do Pré-escolar e 1º Ciclo [pt]


O projeto “Educação para a cidadania digital e participação democrática” envolveu cerca de 200 crianças de Pré-escolar e 1º Ciclo, suas famílias, professoras e outros membros das comunidades escolar e educativa de Caneças, concelho de Odivelas, distrito de Lisboa. Assumindo como metodologia a investigação-ação, teve como objetivo central compreender em que medida uma ação concertada da escola, das famílias e da comunidade contribui para a preparação de crianças, dos três aos nove anos, para o exercício de uma cidadania digital ativa. Este artigo centra-se nas atividades de participação social das crianças, através dos média, tradicionais e digitais, envolvendo atividades marcadas pela transversalidade entre os contextos de aprendizagem formais, não-formais e informais. Os resultados mostram que a participação social das crianças através dos média aumentou, tendo evoluído paulatinamente, da produção de conteúdos de média tradicionais (jornal escolar) para a produção de conteúdos digitais (vídeo). Revelam ainda que um modelo de investigação-ação, efetivamente adaptado ao contexto e em função da prévia caracterização deste, é uma metodologia adequada ao desenvolvimento deste tipo de projetos. Mas o adequado desenvolvimento implica ainda apoio da direção da escola, apoio sustentado dos investigadores aos docentes e o desejável envolvimento de jornalistas e/ou outros profissionais de média.

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Notas da redacção

DOI: 10.17231/comsoc.36(2019).2347
Submitted: 01/02/2019 - Accepted: 30/04/2019

Texto integral

Preparing participating citizens in a post-truth world

1The increased production and dissemination of fake content in online social networks – in particular, so-called “fake news”, a concept that refers to a new type of disinformation in the contemporary world (Bakir & McStay, 2018; European Commission, 2018; Gelfert, 2018; Guess, Nyhan & Reifler, 2018; Tandoc, Lim & Ling, 2018; Unesco, 2018) – together with the normalization of hate speech (Soral, Bilewicz & Winievski, 2018) and citizen distrust of information by the media (Reuters Institute, 2018) have called democratic culture and intercultural dialogue into question (Council of Europe, 2018).

2These phenomena are enabled by large-scale usages of digital technology, often by users without the skills to engage in responsible and positive civic participation. The percentage of citizens with Internet access has been expanding, mostly through mobile devices (especially among young people, who access the Internet earlier and earlier), and the frequency of use continues to increase (OberCom, 2015; INE, 2016; OECD, 2017a) –though there is still evidence of digital gaps (in terms of access, geographical gaps, etc.). However, empirical evidence has also shown the emergence of “epistemic bubbles” and “echo chambers” (Nguyen, 2018), and their connection to disinformation. This emergence is based on the “algorithization” of user preferences and enhances the circulation of fake information - due to users’ lack of skills to assess it as such, reinforcing problematic expectations, preconceptions or pre-existing beliefs, the active rejection of diversity and plurality of opinions.

3At a time marked by a deep crisis in social and institutional trust, this is fruitful (though swampy) ground for the dissemination of false content. Social networks and social messaging support new types of disinformation, which includes “poor”, corrupted information, dependent on the “agendas” or “agencies” and/or purposely fake, as well as politically, ideologically, economically or otherwise motivated information, in order to manipulate public opinion. This especially affects those who lack digital skills and who cannot afford quality information (Unesco, 2018). More users tend to rely on the opinions of influential groups and prioritize content that confirms their world views (Baldacci, Buono & Gras, 2017), as it is reported that fake content tends to be more shared on social networks than the most popular news stories (Silverman, 2016). Moreover, those who read fake content confirm that they believe what they read (Silverman & Singer-Vine, 2016). Noteworthy is the fact that, “when journalism becomes a vector for disinformation, this further reduces public trust and promotes the cynical view that there is no distinction between different narratives within journalism on the one hand, and narratives of disinformation on the other” (Unesco, 2018, p.18).

4All this takes place in a world in which digital mediation has generated unprecedented levels of collaboration (Hirsjärvi & Tayie, 2011). Participatory activities are important, since they are the creative tools for citizens to become involved in the online (Middaugh, Clark & Ballard, 2017). However, research shows that these activities should not be developed on their own, but that citizens should be prepared, from an early age and throughout their lives, for “global citizenship” (Unesco, 2015), to attain “global competence” (OECD, 2016), “digital competence” (Vuorikari, Punie, Carretero & Van den Brande, 2016), in order to perform global citizenship, as defined by Frau-Meigs, O’Neill, Soriani & Tomé, as a:

competent and positive engagement with digital technologies (creating, working, sharing, socialising, researching, playing, communicating and learning), participating actively and responsibly (values, attitudes, skills, knowledge) in communities (local, national, global) at all levels (political, economic, social, cultural and intercultural), being involved in a double process of lifelong learning (in formal, informal, non-formal settings); and continuously defending human dignity. (2017, p. 15)

5Considering that children access digital devices even before they start speaking (Hooft Graafland, 2018; Jorge, Tomé & Pacheco, 2018), use them more and more frequently and develop increasingly complex practices as they grow up (Chaudron, 2016; Marsh, 2014; Palaiologou, 2016; Ponte, Simões, Baptista & Jorge, 2017; Sefton-Green, Marsh, Erstad & Flewitt, 2016; Slot, 2018), it is crucial to prepare them for civic participation in their early years, when they start to understand values and develop competences in terms of attitudes, skills, knowledge and critical understanding, decisive for their creativity and entrepreneurship in its widest forms (in relation to, for instance, social, personal, and business spheres), having positive effects throughout their lives (Ozanus, 2017; Patrinos, 2018).

6The school is not the only element responsible for preparing children, though. Family and community are also responsible, i.e., children should learn in formal, non-formal and informal contexts. This makes it crucial to develop community projects that contribute to the enhancement of teacher training, to involve parents in their children’s education, as well as to innovate at course level (OECD, 2017b). These projects should include children attending kindergarten and primary school, thus ensuring continuity between the cycles and eliminating inconsistencies in the curriculum and in the pedagogical contents in the two school levels (OECD, 2017c).

7For projects focusing on active citizenship and on participation through media, one approach to be considered is the multidimensional approach to disinformation suggested by the European Commission (2018). This approach is based on five pillars: i) transparency, ii) media and digital literacy, iii) citizen and journalist empowerment, iv) safeguarding diversity and sustainability of the European media ecosystem, v) promoting research. Also for consideration are the challenges and the types of resistance that D’Ancona (2017) mentions: a critical and dialogue-type of attitude towards information, developing and promoting skills/abilities; planning and implementing policies, actions and solutions able to help citizens/consumers in validating content nature and reliability; this process includes different communication types including emotional appeals. These are the key requirements for effective social participation.

8Academic debate on children and youth participation is being consolidated in the Social Sciences. The main explanation for this fact is that only after the 1990s, children were viewed as citizens with full rights and with specificities, different from adults (Landsdown, 2005). Up to that moment, the concept of childhood was closely linked to the ideas, created by Sociology and Education Sciences, that saw children as adults in the making. One explanation is that, until the 1980s, Childhood Sociology was predominantly based on Durkheim’s education theory. His concept was that of an educational model centred on state regulation, which would define pedagogical guidelines that should consider the predominant values in a specific society. The school, as an agent of socialization, would create a bond to those collective rules and contribute to social cohesion. The process of child socialization was thus dependent on an “adult-centred” perspective. This viewed children as passive in the way they assimilated adult socialization rules, while more focus was given to a sociological interpretation of the role played by education institutions and by families (Van Haecht, 1994).

  • 1 Sartório (2010) points out similarities in the concept of learning processes by Durkheim and Piaget (...)

9This rationale was reinforced1 with the dominant role of Piaget’s cognitive theory after WWII, according to which child development occurs in different stages as a result of their world experience. More critical perspectives emphasize that Piaget’s theory is based on an obsessive typification of development stages, simplifying and belittling the understanding of cultural and school contexts of the students (Graue & Walsh, 2003), since it considers that “cognitive and psychological development is due to an internal process, and does not consider the wide range of historical and social relations in individual development” (Sartório, 2010, p. 225).

10An interpretative model that considers the socialization process as dynamic/contextual decisively contributes to a different approach to children’s learning process, as a series of interactions that required new methodological strategies for their understanding (Boudon & Bourricaud, 1982). Focus has been placed on children’s reflexive practice which, besides rule and procedure assimilation, has led to a specific understanding of this process, confirming an intersubjective interpretation of the process (Bergman & Luckman, 2010). This perspective paved the way for childhood studies in which children do not simply internalize society and culture but actively contribute to cultural production and change (Corsaro, 2011, p. 32).

11This reflexive practice concept has been actively consolidated in Unicef working papers, in several projects developed with children (Unicef, 2003; Tomás, 2007), in which the concept of participation, though wide and unclear (Percy-Smith & Thomas, 2010), has become a starting point for the respect for children’s rights and their effective civic implication (Gaventa, 2004). Hart’s text, in a report solicited by Unicef, decisively contributed to understanding how child participation is created, by defining it as

the sharing of decisions that affect someone’s life and the life of the community you live in. It is the means by which a democracy is built and it is a standard against which democracies should be measured. Participation is the fundamental right of citizenship. (1992, p. 5)

12Based on his analysis of children’s participatory processes, Hart proposes an eight-stage model, in which he established different levels of children’s involvement in relation to the activities suggested by adults. To discuss which criteria allowed for the actual participation of children in the projects, he adapted Arnstein’s “ladder of participation” (1969), and concluded that full involvement means that the process was initiated by the children and in which decision-making is shared with adults.

13The proposal2 led to a wide debate on the role of the school for the construction of democracy (Bae, 2009) and, therefore, questioned the role of the media in youth cultures, heavily influenced by social networks in their daily lives (Amaral, Carriço Reis, Lopes & Quintas, 2017). Since the 1970s, this understanding of the core role of the media in youth practices has become more and more important in sociological terms, when the mass media gained a significant role in young people’s learning and started being seen as primary agents of socialization (Lee, Shah & Mcleod, 2012). Children and youth development are now seen as more complex and its discussion focuses on learning processes, more ambiguous and less formal, as a result of the decreased relevance of classical agents of socialization (family, school and religion gradually lost relevance and were replaced by peer groups mediated by digital tools). Such a conception introduces a logic of “mutual accommodation” (Bronfenbrenner, 1993) - a sense of dynamic interdependence between the individual and the environment. This human development ecology acknowledges the importance of context, crucial for the understanding of the actions and interactions of social actors. Young people use technology and networks as tools to express themselves and to participate in social organization and mobilization (Bird & Rahfaldt, 2011), enhancing the perception that the media are powerful agents for the socialization of children and youth, crucial to the way we see the world (Giddens, 1994; Kellner, 1995; Thompson, 1995) and act as citizens (Carriço Reis, 2009; Torney-Purta, 2002). However, a significant number of children and youths make a limited use of digital resources, being exposed to disinformation and to a high number of risks (Livingstone, 2008)3. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind the concept of digital native,

which is based on a pattern of digital socialization since birth, technological mediation enabling youths to take the most of digital resources, including being aware of the risks of their use. Empirical studies deny these perceptions and reinforce the need for public policies that may contribute to reducing the risks and widen the use of digital tools for civic participation, for example. (Rivera Magos & Carriço Reis, 2019, p. 158)

14Based on these assumptions, we set up the action research project “Educação para a cidadania digital e participação democrática” (Digital citizenship education for democratic participation, 2016 -2018) in Caneças, Odivelas, in the north of Lisbon, aimed at mobilizing a school, families and the community in preparing three to nine-year-old children to be active and participating citizens.

Methodological approach

15This article reports on an action research project, on school and community intervention aiming to develop civic participation skills in children living in low-middle-class environments. It aimed to understand these children’s self-perception regarding citizenship and civic participation, which would help us to evaluate the contributions of school and family to the participatory process:

action research is, in fact, a social intervention that implies not only describing and theorizing on a social issue in people’s daily lives but solving that issue; it is practice-theory that changes reality and contributes to overcoming a situation-issue. (Melo, Filho & Chaves, 2016, p. 159)

16Understanding this issue allowed us to understand the potential for, and restraints of, action and to open a dialogue that allows for designing activities for these specific children. The synergetic process, mediated by the researchers, aimed to contribute to a harmonious collaboration among all those involved in the civic education of the pupils, as “children need to build their knowledge in a social and pedagogical context that supports, fosters, facilitates and celebrates participation, i.e., a context that participates in the construction of participation” (Oliveira-Formosinho, 2011, p. 27).

17The action research project allowed for the implementation of a set of civic involvement practices by children. At the end of the project, the referred practices were assessed in terms of the attained results (Lewin, 1965). This assessment required the need to understand how the developed activities fed the children’s interactions with their families and the school: “the idea that children simultaneously contribute to both cultures (theirs and that of the adults) is especially important” (Corsaro, 2011, p. 95).

18In short, the project’s core objective was to foster children’s civic participation, by using tools associated with media literacy strategies (Alon-Tirosh & Lemish, 2014; Bird & Rahfaldt, 2014). We acted as mediators in a cooperative dynamic (Cunningham, 1993), working in the school/family contexts. Through the reflexive process we realized how children developed a collective awareness of the participatory process, which led to a link with the community via a school newspaper, designed to challenge their surroundings towards active civic participation.

19The following analysis will describe in the project and the research strategy in detail.

Action research in a context

20The project had the following core research question: “does an integrated approach that involves the school, the family and the community prepare three to nine-year-old children for being active and effective digital citizens?” The project followed the model by Sefton-Green et al. (2016), shown in Figure 1, according to which, in order to be active citizens, children must mobilize three cross-sectional and interconnected areas: the operational (to read, write and interpret media messages), the critical (to critically interact with digital texts and products) and the cultural (to interpret and act in specific social and cultural contexts).

Figure 1: Areas, decision levels and framework of children’s digital literacy practices

Figure 1: Areas, decision levels and framework of children’s digital literacy practices

Source: Adapted from Sefton-Green et al. (2016, p. 18)

21When interacting with and through the media, children operate in these three areas and make decisions at four levels: design (if the message is multimodal or not); production (how they create the text); distribution (which channels to choose) and implementation (imagine how recipients will interpret the message considering their background).

22All these processes are located within frameworks that influence children’s digital literacy practices, usually the micro framework (the child), the meso framework (formal and informal learning contexts, family, friends and the local community) and the macro framework (society as a whole, the nation-state).

23The project aimed to understand children’s media uses and practices, the effects of such practices in their learning, in their literacy, in the way they understand the world, in their social relations and in their social participation, as well as the effects of the use of digital equipment on their overall education (Sefton-Green et al., 2016). Nevertheless, this paper focuses on the social participation activities developed in the scope of the project, involving the children in their family, school and community contexts.


  • 4 Some of the questions were adapted from Mathen, Fastrez & De Smedt (2015).

24Between March and December 2015, we organized a teacher training course on Digital Citizenship and Democratic Participation, which was accredited by the Scientific and Pedagogical Council for Continuous Training. The team produced data collection tools and presented the project to schools in Odivelas, in cooperation with the municipality. Between January and February 2016, we conducted a training course for the teachers on organizing and implementing social participation activities using the media, involving pupils, families and the community. In the end, eight teachers in a school in Caneças, attended by about 200 kindergarten and primary school pupils, accepted to be part of a community intervention project. Our first step was to characterize the context in order to define our intervention strategy. The context was described based on: i) a questionnaire completed by 24 of the 25 teachers that attended the training (10 kindergarten and 15 primary school teachers), focused on digital media uses and practices, the perception of the pupils’ media use, perceptions on learning potential, risks and opportunities; ii) a questionnaire completed by 38 guardians4, focused on digital media uses and practices, perception of children’s media use, perceptions on risks and opportunities, on learning, as well as on parent mediation; iii) interviews (with scripts adapted from Chaudron, 2015) with 38 children (22 were four to six years old and 16 were seven to 10 years old). The interviews had three parts: an ice-breaking dialogue; a part on personal data; and the main part on media and practices, with usage observations whenever possible, evidenced skills, parent mediation and family rules; iv) field notes resulting from visits to the school and different contacts with the community (operational assistants, school psychologists, school nurse, among others). The data collected were processed using the software Statistical Package for Social Sciences (quantitative data) and the software Atlas.ti (qualitative data).


25Results show that guardians and teachers were more focused on the risks than on the opportunities that digital media offer to children. This was a generalized concern, regardless of the social and economic level and the family structure, which was very different among the pupils. In terms of net monthly income, four families had an income below 600 Euro, eight had an income up to a 1.000 Euro, 10 between 1.000 and 1.500 Euro and seven between 1.501 and 2.000 Euro. Only six families had a net monthly income of 2001 Euro or more. Three opted not to reply to this question. In terms of family structure, six children lived with their mothers, eight were only children living with both parents and the remaining lived with both parents and had at least one sibling. This difference allows for understanding the results in describing the context, which we summarize here:

26The teachers

  • all used the internet, television and radio (frequency of use was similar among them) and only two did not have a profile on social networks. Newspapers and magazines were mentioned but they were used only occasionally;

  • only eight out of 24 stated they accessed the internet on their smartphones, mostly accessed it through their laptops;

  • all of them thought that digital media had pedagogical potential but their use in the classroom was rare or merely functional (the mobile phone was mostly used for taking photos). And if 11 of 14 primary school teachers said that they used a computer in the classroom, though not frequently and never by the pupils, only one kindergarten teacher said the same. Among the reasons for this rare use of the computer, the teachers mentioned the lack of means and of technical support.

27The guardians

  • all used the internet, television and radio (the frequency of use was also similar among them), only eight used social networks. Newspapers and magazines were rarely mentioned and used only occasionally;

  • three out of four stated they accessed the internet on their smartphones, but they mostly accessed it through their laptops;

  • according to them, children had learned to use digital media with their mother (26) and/or father (20), with other family members (12) or friends (two). Only one guardian stated that his son had learned how to use the computer at school and nine stated that the child had learned on his/her own, which is consistent with the idea that learning takes place by imitating adult practices, through trial and error, or learning through games’ interactive tutorials (Edwards et al., 2016);

  • all stated they watched television with their children and 34 said they went with them to the cinema (30 at the weekend). Only 16 read books with their children and only 15 read newspapers or magazines with them;

  • parent mediation was lower in the use of mobile digital media. While 31 stated they researched online with the children (26 only during the weekend), only 14 played video games with them (13 only did it in the weekend). According to the parents’ perception, their mediation practices included restrictive (implying usage restraints), active (implying debate with children) and joint use mediation (implying the use of both parents and children). We must, nevertheless, exclude the lack of mediation or distance mediation in some cases (use of media as baby-sitter). However, we found no clear evidence of mediation through participatory learning, in which parents and children debate media use, learn about it together and define media use strategies (Zaman, Nouwen, Vanattenhoven, de Ferrerre & Van Looy, 2016).

28The children

  • all watched television (36 did it every day) and used YouTube, but the frequency of use was varied. Next came digital games (only three of them did not play), and the internet in general (five did not have Internet access at home). Printed media, online social networks and blogs were not used daily;

  • 18 out of 38 accessed the Internet on their smartphones. Computer tablets were the most popular (33 in 38); 17 preferred the console:

  • the time children spent using digital equipment increased during the weekend. If, from Monday to Friday, three children did not use it and 19 only used it up to an hour per day, they all used it during the weekend and only 12 used it up to one hour, 10 (in contrast to four during the week) used it for two to four hours and seven (in contrast to 1 during the week) for more than four hours.

29Teachers and parents rarely talked about the children’s media usages and practices. When so, digital media were always negatively referred to (used for too long, video game addiction, the dangers of the internet). And if 33 of the 38 guardians said they talked with their children about digital media, the most common topics of these conversations were use restrictions and risks. Thus, though digital media use was high and frequent among adults and children, there was an excessive concern with the risks while the potentials of those media were neglected, namely in terms of social participation.

Intervention plan

30Considering the context of the project, in which there were digital gaps (five families did not have internet access at home) and there was no dialogue and reflection among parents, teachers and children on media uses and practices, we organized an intervention plan whose main objectives were to boost the critical analysis and reflexive production of media messages, children’s civic participation and social intervention.

31In September 2016, at a meeting between lecturers and researchers, it was decided to create a printed school newspaper with four main goals in mind: i) reinforce the link between the school, the families and the community; ii) ensure that children have the opportunity to express their opinion through the media; iii) reinforce their critical sense in relation to the media and to social issues; iv) foster democracy at school and in the community.

32Aware of the contradiction of having a project on Education for Media Citizenship based on traditional, printed media, the project team nevertheless decided to implement the project, as this was the only way to overcome the limitations of its context. The first step was to select the name and logo for the newspaper by means of a contest, open to all the pupils. The name most voted was O Cusco (The Busybody). The graphic design was offered by a company. Printing (250 copies) would be sponsored by the Odivelas municipality.

33For the first issue of the newspaper – which included news on school activities – pupils and teachers prepared several interviews on the theme of “being a digital citizen”. Kindergarten pupils interviewed parents and grandparents about what toys they had when they were little and what games they played. First and second-year pupils asked parents and grandparents what the media were like when they were children. Third and fourth-year pupils organized debates on media development. One of these debates was marked by the question: “teacher, what was the internet like in the past?”. This generational activity contributed to the pupils’ better understanding of how the media, toys and games had developed. It allowed for dialogue and reflection at the school, in the families and in the community. Children participated and intervened, especially after the first issue of the newspaper was published.

34Each edition was always prepared by all the teachers. The school coordinator would collect all information and would coordinate the layout of the newspaper. The draft layout of the newspaper would then be analysed by the team, which would then suggest alterations. Afterwards, the newspaper would be printed. The newspaper was first distributed at the school and among the families, and, from the second issue onwards, in the educational community as well, at the end of each term.

35The project officially ended in February 2018, but the teachers continued to produce content for the school newspaper and new issues were published in March and June. This paper presents a set of social participation activities which were published in the school newspaper.

Social participation activities

36Considering that there were acts of indiscipline and violence at the school, the teachers decided to focus on this matter in the second issue of O Cusco. Fourth-year pupils filled in a questionnaire, in which participants were asked to choose one of four positions regarding nine acts of violence among children (Flowers, 2007, pp. 85-88). The team adapted the questionnaire, which the parents were then asked to fill in. The data were processed and discussed with the pupils, who produced a text for the newspaper, to which a text written by the researchers was added, as well as a one by the school psychologist. The pupils expressed their opinions on bullying and other types of violence and exchanged ideas with adults on these matters. This process evidenced effective participation, social intervention at school, family and community levels, as the newspaper was starting to be distributed by the teachers among the several other schools in the school group, in public service facilities and in some of the busiest areas in the neighbourhood of Caneças.

37In March 2017, the children attending the kindergarten discussed human rights and the rights of the child. One of the kindergarten teachers took a rabbit to school, inside a wooden box, and told the children to think about the animal’s needs, imagining that it was alone in the world. The children named the rabbit “Pantufa” (Slipper), the most voted name, and listed all its needs, including home, family, and food. Next, they were asked to think about a child, instead of a rabbit. Using drawing, the activity allowed to stress that the interests of children come before those of adults (Article 3), that their right to life is inalienable (Article 6) as is the right to express their opinions and, furthermore, that their opinions should be considered regarding any matter that concerns them (Article 12). These ideas were reinforced in the school newspaper for the adults to read.

38“Castles in Portugal” was another topic. It led fourth-year pupils to build models of Portuguese castles using recycled material. The pupils decided to show them to the community and organized an exhibition at the library, wrote summaries on the history of each castle and created paper and online invitations, as well as a poster to advertise the exhibition. The visitors could choose to leave a message in the exhibition book and to vote for their favourite castle. On the last day of the exhibition, the ballots were counted. The pupils organized the event, which involved the community, learned to organize a simple voting event and to understand the importance of each vote.

39In June 2017, in compliance with new legislation which stipulated that recreation time in the school yard was pedagogical time, pupils submitted proposals for changing their school yard (consisting of a football field and areas surrounding the primary school, where there was no equipment at all). The kindergarten children drew a yard with wooden treehouses, swings and slides, whereas the primary school children claimed a swimming pool, a disco and even a circus. Second-year pupils wrote to the local authorities - the mayor of Odivelas and to the president of the União de Freguesias de Ramada e Caneças – and concluded their letter saying: “we would just like to be heard and that our requests are taken into consideration when you consider and are able to renovate the school, which belongs to everyone but is mostly from the children”. Both the drawings and the letters were published in the school newspaper. In 2018, the children would again rethink the school yards and the school by building a model with the help of one of the children’s mothers (an architect) and the husband of one of the kindergarten teachers. The photo of the model would be the headline of the June issue of O Cusco.

40In 2018, the pupils’ interests for current affairs together with the critical analysis of the news led to a news program, hosted by the children, to be produced and video recorded. On a Friday, all the primary school children were asked to choose a piece of news that interested them, a task they could carry out with the help of their family, friends or other people. On Monday, the topics of the news were listed on the blackboards of the classrooms and the pupils voted on the news they considered most relevant. The 16 most voted pieces of news were selected, which the pupils presented to the teacher by answering four questions: “Which piece of news did you choose and what was told there?”; “Do you usually read, listen or watch the news?”; “Where did you watch/hear/read this piece of news?”; “Why did you choose this piece of news?”. The host of this first news broadcast, which the pupils called Telecusco, the first show in Cusco TV, was a female pupil. The images were recorded with a mobile phone and edited using Movie Maker. The pupils debated current affairs and involved their families and members of their community. They stated that they were interested in the news (only three said they were not), regardless of the place the news referred to, they consumed the news on multiple platforms (the TV is predominant but the radio, the Internet, the newspaper and even family members were mentioned) and they were mostly interested in negative news (e.g. a plane crash in Iran, two fires and an accident in Portugal, the murder of a child in Brazil, American parents who kept their children locked in their home for years, a lady in Caneças who disappeared, violence in sports and in court, a bomb explosion in the Ukraine, the collapse of a waste dump in Mozambique that caused 17 casualties, the floods in Paris). The video was watched by the children, as well as by the parents, to whom the need was reiterated to talk about current affairs with their children, since many of them found it difficult to understand what was being said, as the news have adults as their target audience.

Conclusions, limitations and recommendations

41The project “Educação para a cidadania digital e participação democrática” [Digital citizenship education for democratic participation] had two main outcomes. On the one hand, it increased children’s participation and social intervention, thus contributing to the development of their citizenship skills. On the other, it became a sustainable project, taken on by the school, which has continued to develop digital citizenship skills, by continuing to publish the school newspaper, nowadays considered the newspaper of the school and educational community, where it is distributed for free.

42Children’s social participation has increased in and outside the school, in collaboration with the teachers, the families and the community. Therefore, the project allowed children to move from non-participation (first three levels) to clear involvement, meeting the upper levels of Hart’s “participation ladder” (1992). The developed activities placed pupils at either level six (activities started by adults in which children have decision-making power) or seven (activities started and led by children).

43In accordance to the teachers’ perceptions, interaction in formal, non-formal and informal contexts has contributed to shaping the children’s practices as citizens. However, they participate mostly through traditional printed media, which gradually changed to digital media, with the production of a video news broadcast. This situation can be explained due to the lack of equipment and to teachers’ limited skills in digital media production.

44Therefore, although adults and children are active and frequent users of digital media, this does not mean that they are ready to produce (more complex forms of) media content. And even in regards to producing for traditional media, the fact that the intervention methodology was action research, with the involvement and support given to the teachers by the researchers, was crucial for the newspaper to become a reality. This evidences that these kinds of projects must include frequent and significant support provided to the schools or institutions they are being developed in.

45The projects must also have the support of the board of the school group (Agrupamento de Escolas), which was essential in this case, at least one teacher must coordinate the project in the school (in this case, it was the school coordinator) and, if possible, include at least one media professional, who can assist teachers and pupils in producing media content, as was the case in this project. Moreover, this project is not complete, as a second stage is necessary that will involve more researchers and media professionals who can train children to deconstruct and analyse media content, as well as produce content considering adequate techniques and ethical and deontological aspects.

46We should also add that the project and its results were limited by a set of factors, including that of having been developed in a specific context, which means that its results cannot be extrapolated to other contexts. Participants of this study were those who voluntarily accepted and/or those authorized to participate, which means that the results may have been different, if other individuals, even if they came from the same context, had been involved The results are based on teachers’ and guardians’ perceptions and on data collected by the researchers through tools adapted or designed by them and not validated for the Portuguese population. Finally, in regards to participation, the activities were designed to impact on the 200 pupils attending the school and not on each child individually. On the one hand, the context was characterized by the participation of only 38 of the 200 children, some of whom (those attending the 4th grade when the project started) were not present during the second year of the project. On the other hand, the focus was on creating the conditions for pupils to actively participate through the media rather than measure that participation individually.

47Why is it then so relevant to rescue that participation? Because we need to preserve democracy, which is more than a form of political organization. Democracy is participation and strive to action, which are crucial in today’s global context, where institutions are disintegrating and democratic practices are lost due to the breaking of civil bonds in local communities and to individuals forgetting the existence of a common ground between opposing political perspectives. Jenkins affirms this, adding that “right now, around the world, democracy needs our help” (2019, p. 7). This help is required from everyone, even of those still in their cribs, who should be prepared to become participating citizens throughout their lives, and prepare their children as well. This is only made possible with community projects that involve the school, the families and the community (Heckman & Karapakula, 2019).

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1 Sartório (2010) points out similarities in the concept of learning processes by Durkheim and Piaget, in which assimilation is viewed as a coercive exercise in which the individual accommodates to existing patterns.

2 To understand Roger Hart’s core ideas, the development of his proposal and the criticism to his ideas, see the text by Tomás (2007, pp. 56-62).

3 See also this EU Kids Online Report available on

4 Some of the questions were adapted from Mathen, Fastrez & De Smedt (2015).

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Título Figure 1: Areas, decision levels and framework of children’s digital literacy practices
Créditos Source: Adapted from Sefton-Green et al. (2016, p. 18)
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Referência do documento impresso

Vítor Tomé, Paula Lopes, Bruno Reis e Carlos Pedro Dias, «Active citizenship and participation through the media: a community project focused on pre-school and primary school children»Comunicação e sociedade, 36 | 2019, 101-120.

Referência eletrónica

Vítor Tomé, Paula Lopes, Bruno Reis e Carlos Pedro Dias, «Active citizenship and participation through the media: a community project focused on pre-school and primary school children»Comunicação e sociedade [Online], 36 | 2019, posto online no dia 20 dezembro 2019, consultado o 17 setembro 2021. URL:

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Vítor Tomé

Vitor Tomé is an Assistant Professor at Autonomous University of Lisbon, a professional journalist (CP1524A) and a researcher at CIES-ISCTE-IUL (Media Literacy and Journalism). He is currently acting as international expert (Dialogue EU-Brazil on Human Rights; Digital Citizenship Education – Council of Europe), scientific coordinator (PICCLE project, Ministry of Education; Digital Citizenship Academy, founded by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation), in-service teacher training (National Teachers Association and Ministry of Education) and in-service journalists training (CENJOR). He has been a lecturer in Portugal (New University of Lisbon, Algarve University, Polytechnic Institute of Castelo Branco), Brazil (PUC-Rio) and Japan (Hosei University).
Email: vitor[at]
Address: Rua de Santa Marta 56 – 1169-023 Lisboa, Portugal

Paula Lopes

PhD in Sociology from the ISCTE-IUL, Paula Lopes is Assistant Professor at Autonomous University of Lisbon, scientific coordinator of the degree and the master in Communication Sciences since 2017, integrated researcher at CECS-UM, and member of OBSERVARE and NIP-C@M-UAL. She has developed research on media and digital literacy practices and skills, media and digital consumption, and their relationship with citizenship practices. Author of several articles in scientific journals, such as Communications, OBS*, Análise Social, Janus, Media e Jornalismo and Estudos em Comunicação. Paula Lopes has worked as a journalist, was training member in CENJOR and also worked in institutional and cultural events.
Email: plopes[at]
Address: Rua de Santa Marta 56 – 1169-023 Lisboa, Portugal

Bruno Reis

PhD in Social Sciences from the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo and PhD in Communication Sciences from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos de Madrid, Bruno Reis has a degree on Sociology from Universidade da Beira Interior (UBI). Currently Assistant Professor at the Autonomous University of Lisbon (UAL), in the Department of Communication Sciences, where he coordinates a Doctorate Programme in Media and Society in the Context of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries. He is also co-coordinating the Research Center on Media Practices and Skills (NIP-C@M). Visiting professor at UAQ/Mexico where he teaches Communication and Digital Culture at the master level, and at The Sociology Department of UBI. Member of the Research Centre of UAL, OBSERVARE and PUC-SP Brazil’s research centre, NEAMP.
Email: breis[at]
Address: Rua de Santa Marta 56 – 1169-023 Lisboa, Portugal

Carlos Pedro Dias

Journalist, TV producer and director, Carlos Pedro Dias has a degree in International Politics by the Autonomous University of Lisbon (UAL). PhD student in Communication Sciences at ISCTE-IUL. Deputy director at Communication Sciences Department and teacher at UAL. Member of the Research Centre of UAL, OBSERVARE. Television and Journalism instructor at CENJOR.
Email: cpdias[at]
Address: Rua de Santa Marta 56 – 1169-023 Lisboa, Portugal

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