Will Kindergarteners be Better at Fact Checking than Boomers?

Argument analysis flowchart
Figure 1 from Cook, Ellerton, and Kinkead 2018. CC BY 3.0

We tach kids how to read so why not teach them to understand how to critique what they read? People tend to be fine with that (although some basic people claim schools shouldn’t teach kids how to question the world around them), so let’s take it the idea of literacy to the 21st century. In Finland they are teaching kindergarten students how to critique and understand arguments made in the news, social media, books, and even their teachers. It turns out that kids are really good at reasoning and will identify “fake news” when they see it.

We soon discovered that children enjoyed playing Sherlock Holmes when fact-checking the claims teachers gave them to verify. After some trial and error, the teachers building the curriculum boiled down complex fact-checking methods into three fundamental questions: Who’s behind the information? What’s the evidence? What do other sources say? These questions are folded in throughout the curriculum, across subjects, and there is continuity from year to year. Young children may learn to tell the difference between a mistake and a hoax, while older students may undertake more advanced projects on elections and threats to democracy.

It would take a lot of time to copy the Finnish approach fully, but a host of experiments in the European Union and beyond suggest that the basic idea can be replicated. The European Commission Expert Group, on which I serve, has explored how education and training initiatives can tackle disinformation through digital literacy in schools throughout Europe. We have produced a report and practical guidelines for teachers and other educators on tackling disinformation, which include activity plans and insights on how to create student-centered approaches. One of the central challenges is that teachers need training, guidance, and support, as well as ways to measure the effectiveness of these lessons.

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