One of Sierra Leone’s leading academics, Dr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw (inset), Senior Lecturer in Media and Politics at Northumbria university in the UK, was among a panel of 7 journalism studies experts who took part in the panel of the Association of Education for Journalism and Mass Communication-UNESCO pre-conference workshop on August 8 2012 as part of the AEJMC August 9-12 conference in Chicago.
The panellists shared the details of the process regarding the global journalism curricula and also best practices and lessons learned from adapting the model in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Caribbean and the Arab states Opening the one-day workshop on the topic: Teaching journalism in developing countries and emerging democracies; The case of UNESCO’s model curricula, UNESCO Programme Specialist and Director of Freedom of Expression and Media Development, Dr Fackson Banda said UNESCO has since 2007 been piloting the widely-endorsed UNESCO Model Curriculum for Journalism Education in an effort to enhance the delivery of quality journalism education globally, particularly in developing countries
He noted that UNESCO’s search for excellence in journalism education is underpinned by a strong conviction that professional journalistic standards are essential to a media system that can foster democracy, dialogue and development. Dr Banda further said that ‘by improving access to and the quality of journalism education to both men and women, UNESCO believes that journalism educators and students stand a better chance of influencing journalistic production at the news-institutional level… A quality journalism education is not only a guarantor of democracy and development, but also of media freedom itself’.‘As such’, Dr Banda continued, ‘through the Model Curricula, UNESCO has sought to, among other things:
Ø Act as a laboratory of ideas by stimulating informed debate among educational policy-makers, journalism experts, practitioners and the general public about the role of journalism education in attaining the democratic and developmental objectives of its Member States.
Ø Set standards for what a quality journalism education should look like, particularly by encouraging the UNESCO-designated Potential Centres of Excellence and Reference in Journalism in Africa to adapt the Model Curricula to suit their social, economic and technological conditions.
Ø Act as a catalyst for international cooperation in journalism education by building and strengthening South-South and North-South strategic relationships and partnerships, using the Model Curricula as an entry point. ‘
Commenting on the status of the Model Curricula, Dr Banda reported that by 2011 a number of journalism education/training institutions in Afghanistan, China, Guyana, Iran, Jamaica, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania had either adapted, or are in the process of adapting, the Model Curricula. He added that Gabon, Congo and Uzbekistan have expressed interest in adapting the Model Curricula in the future. He hinted that altogether, about 70 journalism training institutions in over 60 developing countries have adapted the Model Curricula. Beaming with confidence, Dr Banda observed that by 16 May 2012, the UNESCO web site had registered 12,223 downloads of the publication, across the following linguistic platforms: English; Arabic; Chinese; French; Portuguese; Russian; Spanish; and Nepali.
The UNESCO official said this Chicago pre-conference panel is yet another effort at raising the level of debate about the lessons learned from the application of the Model Curricula in diverse cultural contexts. He added that similar efforts are being pursued for the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) scheduled for Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2012 and the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC-3) slated for Mechelen, Belgium, in July 2013, noting that in all cases, the outcomes will feed into the process of reviewing and revising the Model Curricula.
In his conclusion, Dr Banda noted that as part of the process of revising the model curricula, UNESCO has approached key journalism education experts such as Dr Peter Verweij of D3-Media in the Netherlands, Prof. Robert G. Picard of the Reuters Institute at the University of Oxford and Dr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw of Northumbria University in the UK to render service to UNESCO in developing modules on specialised topics in the field of journalism such as data journalism, media sustainability and humanitarian reporting.
Speaking on the panel, Dr Shaw called for the need to adapt some of the largely formulaic approaches of the UNESCO model curricula to resonate with the cultural realities of journalism training and practice in Africa as research has shown that the largely top-down approach has been hitting some rocks. In order to achieve this, he proposed the incorporation of a critical history of African journalism informed by the African philosophy of Ubuntu which emphasises values of belonging, association and community spirit rooted in oral African tradition drawing on his article in Sage’s journal International Communication Gazette (2009). Dr Shaw argued that ‘it is far from enough to have just a passing reference to the history of the dominant neoliberal theory of the press as a BA year 2 session in the syllabus of the Media and Society module’ in the model curricula.
Shaw’s bottom-up approach argument was echoed earlier by the panellist from Asia, Professor Sundeep Muppidi of Hartford University, who called for an Asian framework for the UNESCO model curricula. However, he admitted that the origins of journalism and journalism education are especially rooted in the colonial period of most of the Asian countries and that they are strongly influenced by their colonial histories. In order to reinvigorate the bottom-up approach in adapting the model curricula in Asia, Prof Muppidi called for the tapping into the strong cultural and literary backgrounds in the various languages of most of the countries in Asia which, he said, can be greatly fostered by a planned approach to developing and publishing books and training materials relevant to local conditions. He said a stronger emphasis also needs to be placed on providing linguistic journalism and encouraging local knowledge and techniques adding that such an approach also supplants Western influences and encourages localisation and relevance.
Prof. Sonia Virginia Moreira of Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro also touched on the theme of the bottom-up application of the model curricula emphasising the approach of oral tradition similar to the one in Africa, which she said is particularly evident in radio journalism based on widespread community participation in Brazil. The other panellists, Professors Stuart Adam (Professor Emeritus) formerly of Carlton University in Canada, Alves Rosenthal of Austin State University, and Peter Laufer of Oregon State University largely focused their presentations on their experiences in contributing modules to the UNESCO curriculum.
The panel presentations were followed by a mini launch of Dr Ibrahim Seaga Shaw’s new book ‘Human Rights Journalism: Advances in Reporting Distant Humanitarian Interventions ‘published by Palgrave Macmillan (2012)’ with the introductory honours conducted by Dr Fackson Banda. The pre-conference event was wrapped up with a roundtable moderated by Dr Amy Schmidt Weise of San Diego State University in the US on ‘The Future of Journalism Education in Developing Countries’. The debate of the round table focused on the criticisms of the UNESCO model curricula as being largely based on the Anglo-American liberal democracy model of journalism; a problem which, most participants agreed, has posed a serious challenge to the local adaptation of the model in developing countries. However, one of the panellists of the preconference, Prof. Peter Laufer of Oregon State University said critics are merely missing the point as the UNESCO model curricula is meant to be adapted to the local situations of the developing countries and not necessarily adopted as it is.
In his response, the UNESCO Programme Specialist Dr Fackson Banda said there is still room for improvement of the model curricula despite its huge success in being easily adapted in many developing countries and hinted that this partly explains the reason for the decision to have it revised to incorporate some additional features and modules to make it more universally adaptable.