Distinguishing fact from opinion

young learner

What do we know about the younger generation’s ability to distinguish fact from opinion, and a look to the future of creativity.

In the era of Trump and ‘fake news’, increasing engagement with social media and an ever-expanding pool of ‘news’ sources (available to most at the click of a button, or scroll of a screen) the question of distinction (and the ability to distinguish) between fact and fiction becomes increasingly important.

When making our way, often mindlessly, through our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram feeds, we are bombarded with information that is delivered in a way that supports a particular opinion, rather than an unbiased viewpoint, and it can be very difficult, at least at first glance and sometimes even after more extensive investigation, to tell what is fact and what is opinion.

In 2018 the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) carried out by the Organisation Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that fewer than one in ten students in OECD countries (34 different nations located in Europe, North America and Asia) were able to distinguish between fact and opinion. You can read the PISA 2018 Results Map here and the PISA 2018 Insights and Interpretations report here.

PISA measures 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges and the results are generally accepted as a barometer of the effectiveness of an education system’s performance. Essentially PISA provides an indication as to what extent the knowledge and learning provided in the classroom translates into an ability to navigate real world situations and challenges.

If 90% of students cannot distinguish between opinion and fact, it would indicate that their education is falling down somewhere. Given the rapid changes in digital technology – which has allowed more and more information (increasingly unchecked) to spread further and quicker than ever before – it is perhaps necessary that more time is dedicated within the curriculum, to investigating and interrogating the plethora of information young people are exposed to every day.

In 2022 PISA will focus on mathematics and financial literacy with an additional test of creative thinking. Many speculate that the past 12 months have had a hugely adverse effect on our creative abilities, primarily down to lack of physical collaboration in artistic and learning environments. With the report having been postponed from 2021 so as to encompass effects of COVID-19, it will be interesting to see how these speculations are reflected in the PISA 2022 findings. That begs the question, what ongoing and new initiatives must be nurtured and enacted to protect creative international societies?