Thinking about SD is proving to be an urgent need. This is one of the reasons why one can find an answer in university studies at various universities in Slovakia. It is natural that a broad-spectrum understanding of SD affects study programs in different ways; student education differs within different fields of study and individual approbations. Due to this, the focus of study programs on SD and the subsequent level of education of students in the field of sustainable development goals in Slovakia is also different, especially in terms of the scope and content of teaching.
According to experts, the issue of SD at Slovak universities is sufficiently represented, especially in interdisciplinary study programs, i.e., in the compulsory and elective study subjects of the curricula in question on the coverage of themes of SD [20
]. However, other experts point out shortcomings and highlight that, in the school environment in Slovakia, competences for SD are generally overlooked [24
] and the education of teachers and lecturers is not systematic, systemic, or nationally coordinated [25
]. Educators lack interest and motivation [27
] in addition how problematic the practical professional preparation of future teachers is towards sustainability or the quality of their preparation for the practice and implementation of education on SD [24
] or insufficient practical implementation of the principles of SD in the management of Slovak universities and student dormitories [29
]. In short, on a nationwide scale, it is possible to talk more about a small compulsory implementation of environmental education in the school environment, which is predetermined by the state, i.e., the Slovak educational program [30
]; despite the fact that of the worldwide existence and awareness of SD and literacy in the school environment [31
The implementation of SD in education in Slovakia is part of “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (Agenda), adopted by the Member States of the European Union in September 2015. At the core of the program are 17 goals of sustainable development, including the “Sustainable Development Goals in education” (SDGs). In short, they focus on ensuring “inclusive, equitable and quality education” and “promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The program also mentions the need to strengthen the area of sustainable development, together with strengthening the quality of education, lifelong learning, regional and global cooperation, etc. [34
]. The agenda offers a starting point for educators to begin to collaborate with youth, schools, and communities and to initiate a research agenda that should extend well beyond 2030 to ensure that progress is made towards addressing and achieving appropriate development. According to experts, the agenda calls for, among other things, the transformation of education so that young people, schools, and the wider community can be actively involved in the goals of SD [3
In support of the agenda for SD as well as in support of the principles of SD, in recent years, measures as well as the implementation of conceptual and legislative steps, projects, and programs have been introduced. In Slovakia, the Ministry of the Environment and its professional organizations contribute to SD, including environmentally focused non-profit organizations and initiatives, environmental non-governmental organizations, state professional organizations, and research institutes or interest associations and organizations. The evaluation of their measures remains an issue.
3.1. Sustainable Development and Use of the Media in the School Environment
The Global Education Monitoring Report team prepared an independent annual publication, called “Beyond commitments: How countries implement SDGs in the field of education” in 2019. Slovakia is listed in the publication as one of 26% of countries in the world that have adapted curricula in specific areas in relation to SDGs in the field of education. Slovakia was positively evaluated in the publication “in the context of education on SD and global citizenship” [46
] (p. 29). Much earlier, schools in Slovakia spoke about the good learning results when using “traditional media” such as newspapers or television [47
]. Relevant topics were stated, for example, in the subject “Arts and Culture” in which students tried practical work with media or production of advertisements [49
] (p. 157). We can see that the good learning results when using “traditional media” is evidenced by the fact that, every day, a number of these types of media content is created and still touch on various parts of Slovaks’ lives. Similarly, the number of virtual learning environments in which new media and new communication technologies are used is increasing in schools in Slovakia [49
] (p. 157) [50
]. Effective use of media and new communication technologies in school environment has risen because it has been observed that there is more to them than accuracy and the amount of information exchanged (it comprises a founding rationale for the field of media studies and was basically characterized by Marshall McLuhan with his thesis “the medium is the message”). Teachers and students realize that today’s search for content (apart from context which is seen in “traditional media” such as newspapers or television) is not enough anymore. “New media” are more efficient than their predecessors as means of communication. Typical of the online environment is an active duplex communication involving the transfer of information from the author to the recipients and back as well as between recipients who choose between particular media and, thus, decide on what will be read and watched [51
]. In addition, the cyberspace formed by new media allows people to generate virtual experiences and reality. New media as a part of the online environment have completely different characteristics and, therefore, possibilities as well include the impact on human communication, thinking, behavior, actions, etc.
Some of the main characteristics of “new media” are described by experts. Lister et al. speaks about six main characteristics that comprise the term “new media”, i.e., digitalism, interactivity, hypertextuality, virtuality, networks, and sometimes simulation [52
]. Other experts speak about digitality, convergency, interactivity, hypertextuality, and virtuality in the context of “new media” [53
] (p. 2), [54
]. We do not delve into this topic because it could be clearly stated that what makes “new media” different from traditional media is simply their speed and their availability—much of that is brought about due to digital tools. Then, we could call “new media” “digital media” as well. The reachability of digital media is significant, extending to all people instead of a limited audience; without the confinement of time and space, the control of message production is no longer a privilege possessed (for example, by a political party or government) but, instead, equally shared by all individuals.
It should be clearly emphasized that, in this article, attention is focused on the concept of SD as an issue of human individual responsibility that is followed by the introduction of collective participation and collective responsibility on sustainability in a school environment that we see through the (traditional) media and especially the new media. We see the new media as a means for promoting collective responsibility for SD and a great partner for the propagation of individual tasks in the context of individual responsibilities. The media is partners in initiatives that develop civic or communication skills and that, through published journalism (articles, videos, photographs, documents, etc.), inform local audiences in Slovakia about sustainable development; this occurs likewise in traditional and new media. Additionally, traditional media and new media, from positions as “opinion leaders”, are also tools that involve their audiences in solving the reported problems. This is also understood by schools, which the media—as information and motivation mechanisms—effectively involves in their school projects.
Accessibility to this context is undoubtedly possible through media education. It is media education that can be used appropriately in favor of SD in the school environment [55
]. In this context, we understand the term “media education” as a conscious time for active and responsible use of media (also) as a tool for the benefit of SD activities. Media education in this article is understood as (1) education on active media creation. We believe that the dramatic growth of social media creates new opportunities for engaging students. We also believe that involving students in creating media encourages collaboration, creativity, accountability, and mastery of ideas and concepts [58
] wherein the conscious use of media enables students to learn more [61
]. We therefore avoid other meanings of the concept of media education, such as (2) education (knowledge transfer) through the media [65
] or (3) media education as education for critical perception and conscious media perception [71
] (p. 176) [72
We are thinking of several forms of media involvement in favor of SD in schools, for example, in the following forms:
school courses and seminars: journalism, photography, film, environmental, etc.;
the school radio, school internet television, school newspapers, etc.;
school exhibitions of photographs, performances of eco-movies, etc.;
a documentary of the school;
public notice boards in the school environment or on the school premises; and
Public relation activities of the school, i.e., targeted involvement of regional media in school activities (e.g., school social projects).
By using these methods, the school becomes a place that involves the public. Using media methods, the school engages the public through the following:
school media outputs (school radio programs, school internet television programs, articles in school newspapers, creative work within the seminar activities, etc.);
information stands and posters at school (e.g., during activities aimed at the presentation of professions or the future employment of students, etc.);
regional and national school competitions;
school conferences, seminars, discussions, academies, memorial celebrations, cultural zones, etc.;
social media, especially social networks (which contribute to the greater visibility of school activities); and
others (the media is secondarily usable in several other school activities: music evenings, theatre performances, art programs and events, etc.).
3.2. Expansion of School Functions as a Consequence of Media Interaction in Education
The abovementioned forms of media involvement in favor of SD in the school environment extend the social significance of school activities and the educational process beyond the school space. The school, which uses the media to raise awareness and to support the message of individual responsibility for sustainable development, adds other functions to its educational and upbringing functions. These functions not only are applicable in the school environment but also are welcome and necessary in the wider society:
informative function of the school—school activities are the bearer of messages even in out-of-school environments; they also inform, for example, about the current needs for civic intervention in relation to sustainable development;
ethical and moral function of the school—the school draws attention to moral rules, norms, and evaluations of people’s behaviors from the point of view of ethics and morality. The aim of school activities is to have a positive effect on the character traits of people and, in parallel, on their behavior;
awareness function of the school—awareness is a basic component of education and acts to shape the needs, interests, and ways of life of students. It is based on the participation of individuals in social life. Through activities aimed at sustainable development, the school also becomes an instrument of awareness in the wider society (an elementary example is a school paper collection competition, through which the school addresses its students and they in turn involve their families and the wider community);
motivational function of the school—through its activities, the school also has a motivational function and applies the principles of voluntariness, interaction, diversity, activity, and others in its activities; and
preventive function of the school—the school becomes a place that creates space for the emergence of forms and methods through which one can change not only the educational level of citizens but also their behavior and social activities; a practical example is the involvement of parents and friends of the school in school activities.
In the next section, we recall that the expansion of school functions is not only a consequence of media interaction in education but also
(1) a consequence of media influence and media effectiveness, and
(2) raising awareness through media; the media promotes awareness and motivation to achieve goals (for example, in support of active citizenship).
When thinking about media influence, above all, we must examine the theory of George Gerbner (cultivation theory), McComb’s and Shaw’s theory (agenda-setting theory), and L. Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. “Cultivation sociocultural theory” focuses on the role of television in shaping viewers’ perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and values.
“Cultivation theory” holds that the storytelling function of television (i.e., media) is extremely powerful and gives to this type of traditional media the power to shape both individual and societal values (for example, perception of wealth and affluence or general levels of materialism). The findings show that viewing cultivates perceptions of social reality through television (as a tool of “cultivating the common consciousness”) consistent with the world portrayed on television; it shows how exposure to media messages influences recipients’ conceptions of the real world [76
] (p. 174). Thus, the presentation of certain people and their activities, beliefs, or values has a significant impact on society [77
]. Support cultivation theory is also interesting for many experts who studied the relationship between television and violence [79
], perceptions of health [81
], perceptions of human relationships [82
], perceptions of gender and sexist attitudes [84
], levels of certainty attached to confusion [86
], or bigger interpersonal mistrust [87
]. In all these cases, the frequency of television viewing is positively correlated with raising awareness in the study subjects. Despite critics of this theory (for example, statistical criticisms of hypothesis testing are pointed out by Hirsch [89
], Tyler [90
], etc.), we can state that, by extending the conclusions of these findings to other media and new social media, we clearly see a correlation between media content and human perception, which can be positively assessed in the context of SD and achieving its goals.
All media influences are the subject of the so-called “agenda-setting theory” that is a “theory of strong media effects which suggests that with the passage of time the media agenda becomes the public agenda” [91
] (p. 2070). The authors of the notion that the news influences “what to think about” were two researchers at the beginning of the 1970s. Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw from the University of North Carolina explained that agenda-setting theory claims that audiences obtain this salience of the issues from the news, incorporating similar sets of priorities into their own agendas [92
]. According to McCombs, the media influences the public’s perceptions of their own focus on what are the most important issues of the day. They do it through the framing of their news stories. This function of the media is called the agenda-setting function of media [93
]. Basically, in the context of SD, it is good to remember, that, most of our perceptions about the world are a second-hand reality created by traditional and “new” social media, and thus, “agenda-setting” gives both groups of media an important and responsible role in the society. At the same time, the media can also be an “extended hand” of school educational projects aimed at raising awareness in SD and the overall improvement of the environment.
After “cultivation theory” and “agenda-setting theory”, we should not avoid theories from the field of psychology that also have an impact on the consequence of media influence and media effectiveness as well as on raising awareness (in our case, about SD) through media, specifically, “the theory of cognitive dissonance” by L. Festinger. In 1957, Festinger called dissonance a human response to unpleasant newly acquired information or experiences that contradict a previous idea or knowledge. This discrepancy caused unpleasant tension and consequently a desire to reduce or even eliminate it. Rather than enduring the aversive experience of believing one thing but saying another, a person changes their opinion and convinces themselves that the opinion is not correct and that it is necessary to change it. We can say that it is a subconscious reaction of the mind to the discrepancies between attitudes (knowledge, behavior, and faith) and the real state of affairs. In other words, a person´s attitude is shaped by their behavior. A person’s decision about something “uncomfortable” takes place when they are influenced by an external force that pushes the individual to make a decision, to change [94
]. In this context, the effects of the media are important, influence attitudes and behaviour, and disrupt human comfort or provoke affective reactions. Dissonance (when seeing terminally ill children, global catastrophes, violence, etc.) can be reduced by changing the belief, attitude, or behavior that the media effects can thus cause a positive change in thinking and acting; perceived choice is an important variable based on blending cognition with motivation. This is why “dissonance theory” is interesting for education, media, and SD.
The theories presented above suggest that there are some observed events that are misunderstood or distorted, that others are ignored, yet that others are viewed as centrally important in the media. All communication through the media has a purpose, and whether this goal has been achieved through the media is known as “media effectiveness” [95
] (p. 470). Media effects represent the potential of the media to have an intended impact on recipients. Additionally, the forms of new media are more efficient than the forms of their predecessors. The Internet brings interactivity, digitalization, and an online world that is cheap and available without interruption; online means available anywhere and at anytime. Thus, the impact of the existence of new media can be summarized into several views, namely, that the boundaries of human societies in terms of space, time, scope, structure, geography, value, and beliefs are swiftly changing and transforming into a new pattern of similarities and interconnectedness [96
]. Therefore, the development of new media and its content and forms is accompanied by an observation that any form of presented reality has its own impact on individuals and an influence on the whole of society [97
Finally, discussing the meanings of “new media” in the context of media influence and awareness, we are reminded that new media are associated with digital media that bring much more understanding about what happens and how it happens (than merely ascertaining the level of accuracy and the amount of data the exchange involves as is seen in “traditional media”). Thus, “new media” contributes to raising awareness (e.g., informing and developing knowledge about climate change and poverty issues, raising awareness of vulnerable groups, etc.) and promotes awareness and motivation to achieve goals (e.g., in support of the ecological approach, communication, active citizenship, etc.). To put it simply, we can see that media in general (i.e., traditional media and, especially, “new media”) are heavily involved in achieving suitable development goals in the field of education. Many studies therefore confirm that the media is a powerful tool that contributes to raising awareness in school environments [8