Using UNESCO media model for emerging nations

WITH more than 58 institutions of higher learning offering journalism education in Nigeria, there is tendency to believe that recruitment of skilled personnel to service the vibrant media industry in the country will be an easy exercise. 

But this seems to be the reverse. Falling standard of education has caught up with all facets of human life, media industry inclusive. Stakeholders, both at the academic and professional levels, appear desirous to address this. So they converged last week in Lagos at a workshop on curriculum guideline for improved journalism education in Nigeria.

The four-day gathering, facilitated by the Nigerian Press Council (NPC), drew participants from the universities, polytechnics, and other training institutions for journalism education across the country as well as mass media industry stakeholders including regulatory bodies and professional associations.

The focus was to deliberate on how to domesticate the UNESCO model curricula for journalism education for developing countries and emerging democracies, with the Declaration of Principles of Journalism Education by World Journalism Education Congress in Singapore, June 2007 serving as the guiding framework.

At the congress in Singapore last June, Nigeria, and West Africa were represented by Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye, of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and Alhaji Fassy Yusuf.

With the workshop, which began on Wednesday, October 3 and ended on Saturday, October 6, 2007, the country, therefore, became the first country to commence the process of domesticating the UNESCO document.

Expectedly, the workshop created a platform for training institutions; the mass media industry; regulatory bodies; professional organisations; other relevant experts and agencies to interact and determine how to improve the quality of journalism education in Nigeria.

And to the delight of the NPC, virtually all the heads of departments of mass communication in country were in attendance. The forum also attracted the participation of President, Newspaper Proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN), Mr. Ray Ekpu; President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mallam Baba Halilu Dantiye; and President, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Mr. Aku Ndagene, as well as representative from the National University Commission (NUC). 

In his keynote address, Information and Communication Minister, Mr. John Ogar Odey, described the workshop as an occasion “to appraise how far we have fared in our journalism career, knowing that our performance is a function of what we have learnt or were taught.”

Represented by his Director of Research and Production, Mr. Tunde Bello, the Minister noted that Nigeria’s educational system was challenged by globalisation, characterised by rapid and complex development in the world of information/communication technology. This revolution, he pointed out, ensured that “our standards can be easily accessed and compared with what we practise.

“Also today, we are challenged by the continued dominance of the airwaves by the countries in the Northern Hemisphere. Perhaps, there is still the need to continue the dialogue of the New World Information and Communication Order. If that is so, then designing and producing media curricular of relevance becomes imperative in our media training and retraining.

He also reasoned that the steady advance in democratic governance in Nigeria has laid a challenge of improved responsibility to inform and educate on stakehoders.

“This calls for reflection on the capabilities of our learning institutions and practitioners alike. It is worthy of note that there is an increase in the recognition of the important role of journalist in promoting democracy and good governance. This I believe has created the urgent need for the development of curriculum to aid the education, training and retraining of journalists for our country’s democracy and development.

“A poorly trained journalist constitutes a great threat to the ideal of accurate, adequate and timely dissemination of information to the society,” the minister warned.

The minister’s expectation from the workshop is the reflection, in the final curriculum, the relevance of most of Nigeria’s cultural peculiarities.

He warned, “We must not buy wholesale curricular designed by foreigners for foreign societies but we need to adopt, and/or domesticate aspects we deem relevant to enhance our democracy.”

He wondered why the high number of media training institutions -58- with a combined estimated student population of about N15, 000, and academic staff population of between 1,000 to 1,500, has not reflected in the output of media industry in terms of professional handling information processing and dissemination. He charged “we must work together to solve our problems arising from this unhealthy situation.? 

The historical foundation of Nigerian journalism education, the minister said “reveals that for many decades in Nigeria, journalism education was regarded as unnecessary. This is perhaps the reason why no Nigerian university offered any formal journalism training and education until 1962 when Nigeria’s first formal journalism training institution at the university level began at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka followed by the then University of Lagos Institute of Mass Communication (now Department of Mass Communication) in 1966.

“Today, the tendency towards underrating journalists as a profession is therefore diminishing. Journalism education and training has now been recognized in Nigeria as one of the most important phenomena in national development and sustainable democracy.”

In his view, the wide spread public acceptance, the rise of new technologies and market pressures among others, have given rise to the need to reappraise the methods of teaching journalism. 

He decried a situation where most schools engage in theoretical approaches more than practical one. “This has greatly affected the output, particularly of fresh graduates, which in most cases, do not meet the requirement of the industry. It is therefore imperative for you all to prepare to take up the onerous task and challenge of providing relevant manpower for the vibrant media industry to serve its needs and those of the nation in general. 

“The curriculum you are about to fashion out should be able to target the achievement of a balance of basic skills, critical thinking and commitment to freedom, social consciousness and access to knowledge. These targets, if pursued, should no doubt lead to the production of ‘total journalism graduates’ who would be committed to professionalism, the fight for equity and justice, and the search for truth.” 

Reference was made to the basic goal of journalism, which he noted was to serve society by “informing the public, scrutinising the way power is exercised, stimulating democratic debate, and in these ways aiding political, economic, social and cultural development.

“It is therefore, incumbent upon us to continually undertake the review of the relevance, role and function of journalism education in Nigeria so that our young journalism graduates will rank the best trained and the best performing in the world,” Odey concluded. 

Earlier, the NPC chairman, Hadj Alade Odunewu, informed that the workshop would opens the press council’s accreditation workshop series through which the council would regularly interact with journalism education institutions and relevant stakeholders in the mass media industry with a view to improving the quality of journalism graduates to meet the challenges of the industry.

According to the veteran journalist, the workshop would stimulate the evolvement of a journalism education curriculum guidelines “that will ensure improved journalism education in line with the new UNESCO model and align journalism education in Nigeria with global trends and expectations.” 

Expectedly, the exercise would set the tone for the revision of the Press Council’s guidelines for accreditation. This, Odunewu envisaged, would make the council to once again begin visitations to journalism training institutions with a view to assessing their professional ratings.

He drew attention of participants to the NPC Act of 1992 section 20, subsection 1-3 which explains the kind of courses and training expected of any person seeking to become a journalist.

“Section 20 and 21 of the Act also set out conditions for approval of qualifications and institutions as well as the council’s relationship with training institutions.

Section 21, he noted, “enjoins the council to keep itself abreast of the nature of the trainings at approved institutions and the examination as a result of which approved qualifications are granted. It is in this light that the council decided to organise this workshop aimed at domesticating the new UNESCO model on Journalism Education.

According to him, the professional content of journalism/mass communication programmes in Nigeria is of paramount importance to the Nigerian Press Council. “It will therefore like to engage in continuous interaction with both journalism trainers and stakeholders to improve the quality of the profession,” he said.

The rapid increase in the number of journalism training institutions in the country, he continued, has no doubt posed challenges to journalism educators and statutory institutional regulatory bodies such as the National Universities Commission (NUC) and National Board for Technical Education (NBTE).

“It is therefore the duty of all of us to collaborate and fashion out implementable curriculum guidelines to lift the media to a higher pedestal. This is necessary because the media thrives on the trust reposed on it by the people. Today, because we are in a democratic setting, the people look on to the press as the touch stone to good governance, transparency and accountability. Journalism educators and practitioners therefore should constantly be engaged in capacity building exchanges to improve and maintain the highest standards. 

“Since it is the council’s responsibility to foster the achievement and maintenance of high professional standard by the press, it is very important that a curriculum of relevance is worked out for journalism institutions in Nigeria. 

“It is therefore imperative for you to take up the onerous task of providing a curriculum content that will not only lead to the production of a total journalism graduate, who will not only be committed to professionalism but one who will fight for justice, equity and the truth. 

“At the end of this interactive session, participants are expected to have fashioned a curriculum that will enhance critical ethical standards; focus on the eight-Millenium Development Goals (MDGS); and one that will also enhance the students’ capability and empower them for the desired entrepreneurship.” 

Altogether, the workshop featured four paper presentations. Akinfeleye examined the UNESCO Model in relation to challenges of training journalists. Allimi, chairman, Board of Directors Gateway Radio, Abeokuta looked at the issue from the perspective of broadcast media while Mr. Azubuike Ishiekwene, Executive Director, Publications, Punch Nigeria Limited treated the same topic from print media perpective. 

Journalism Training of Relevance was topic of Prince Tony Momoh’s presentation. However, the absence of chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Mr. Ayogu Eze and his counterpart at the House of Representatives, Mr. Dino Daniel Melaye, attracted negative reaction from the participants. The point was first raised by the President, Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) Mallam Baba Dantiye. And similar resentment was echoed by virtually all the speakers. 

The assembly later split into six syndicate groups focusing on Curriculum; Training; New Technology; Law and Ethics; Constitution/Media History and Culture as well as Teaching and Learning environment respectively.

Source: Guardian October 8, 2007

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