ARTICLE / APRIL 2020

How curiosity from a young age can counteract the spread of ‘fake news’

By Caroline Kennard

LONDONApril 3, 2020 – In today’s world, it’s easier to spread misinformation through simple means than ever before. Take the current COVID-19 situation as a prime example of how quickly misinformation can spread. Social media platforms including WhatsApp and Facebook have proven to be a hotbed for the circulation of incorrect information around combatting the virus and rumours that it was started by a failed biological experiment. It is therefore our responsibility, as parents, educators and the wider community, to share reliable, trusted news sources, and encourage children to challenge anything they may consider ‘fake news’, through piquing their curiosity and motivating them to explore current topics, subjects and themes beyond classroom learning. 

According to recent research undertaken by Journolink, at least 45% of adults are conscious that they come across deliberate misinformation on a daily basis. In addition to this, a 2019 study from Ofcom found that 87% of 12-15 year olds in the UK had heard the term ‘fake news’, and 50% had admitted to seeing a ‘fake news’ story.

"Encouraging students’ curiosity from an early age is vital in counteracting the deliberate manipulation of facts – as it helps them look beyond headlines and not always take what they read at face value. Therefore, teachers and parents need to make a conscious effort to raise inquisitive and curious young people, as this will help the next generation effectively differentiate between what is factually correct from what is not."

Encouraging curiosity

As younger children are naturally more curious learners, enabling them to have the freedom to learn on their own accord can encourage and nurture this spirit of curiosity, allowing young people to bring this with them into later stages of life. 

Studies from Wakefield Research have shown that 94% of parents believe that, the more curious children are, the more likely they are to be successful as adults. In addition to this, 97% of parents agree that curious children excel beyond less curious children.

"Two of the top areas where parents believe that children excel over their less curious peers are; learning things quicker (75%) and thinking critically (68%). Thinking critically is vital when it comes differentiating between trustworthy information and misinformation."

Currently, in order to prevent the continued spread of false information, especially as schools remain closed for the majority of students, young people should be encouraged to use trustworthy sources of information to keep them engaged with their studies. This can help inspire them to take responsibility for their own learning and will allow parents to feel comfortable that their children are safe whilst still allowing their curiosity to flourish. Nurturing an eagerness to learn amongst students enables them to continue engaging with classroom content away from school.

Information that teachers provide outside the classroom must mirror the high-quality education taught in schools, whilst being curriculum aligned. To protect the integrity of accurate online information, all materials used by teachers and students should be accessed through established and credible sources. This can help to put teachers, parents and students’ minds at ease on how trustworthy the content really is. If this information is then also presented in an engaging way, students are more likely to enjoy studying, which in turn will help them become more inquisitive and actively delve deeper into their chosen subjects. Taking modern history as an example, having teachers that can provide compelling information gives students the opportunity to view further informative articles and information about topics in the curriculum, such as Nazi Germany or the Second World War. Providing students with reliable information will help to engage them, piquing their interest and encouraging them to ask more and find out more information.

In turn, teachers can help inspire curiosity by probing students about the information given to them and helping them to assess and distinguish fact from fiction. Teachers should not accept at face value responses given by students to lesson content, but instead question them on how they reached their conclusion and why.

Keeping on top of student progress, both in the classroom and at home, can also help to further engage students in a range of topics. While it remains equally as important to trust students’ judgement and enable them to become inquisitive of their own accord, teachers also have an important role to play in nurturing students’ curiosity. It’s important that schools present their information in an effective and concise way, in order to continue developing students’ engagement with topics. This way, teachers will have the ability to make a judgement on what level their students are at and provide additional support both individually and in small groups to help improve their learning. As it is likely to deter a student, if they feel they are behind or struggling in comparison to their peers. Equally, students that are excelling may become less engaged, and less likely to be curious, if they feel they aren’t being challenged enough.

It’s important to encourage students to become independent learners and to help them conduct their own research, enabling them to form their own views, identify misinformation and share reliable facts and sources with their peers. Through providing students with trustworthy sources of information, this can help to ensure students can continue to expand their own curiosity through independent thinking.

It’s unlikely that false information will disappear any time soon. However, students, parents and teachers can be effectively prepared to thwart its spread, while informing others how to detect it. Through nurturing young people and educating them on the significance of curiosity, we can use trusted sources, and inspire students to take responsibility for their learning in order to counteract the spread of misinformation.