Thursday, 08 July 2010 15:25

Educators push for new J-school curricula

Students decide to study journalism at university level in order to fulfil a desired lifestyle, this was the main point raised in two of the research papers discussed during the session on Transforming J-Education at the World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC), yesterday. Four research papers were discussed during the session which looked at the different approaches that universities in certain countries address while teaching journalism.

The session tackled the difficulties of teaching journalism and the changing times in which journalism educators have to teach the craft. Discussant, Professor Ian Glenn from the University of Cape Town, noted that it was interesting how some students had unrealistic expectations of studying journalism and of the profession.

Professor Jan Jirak from Charles University in Prague in the Czech Republic said that although journalism is a preferred profession in his country, it is not well-respected. Students are not fully aware of the field they are entering before applying to study journalism, he said. Jirak described how, since 1990s and the development of the free market, journalism has evolved and become hyper-commercialised. “This has resulted in journalism education merely adopting the features of US and European education,” Jirak said, “Old skills are implemented in the new frameworks.”  

Rhodes University lecturer Priscilla Boshoff picked up on the same theme of journalism students entering institutions to study journalism without a critical understanding of the field in her paper There is no Curriculum. Boshoff focused on the perceptions and expectations of students studying Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University and made a distinction between those from elite schools (public and private) and those from schools in rural areas. Her research shows that while learners from wealthier schools are taught to be critical, they believe that the news adequately represents reality and think that opinionated news is good.

Meanwhile, students from poorly-funded schools, who may be academically challenged, are more accommodating to critical thought, Boshoff said. “They think that news does not address the needs in society adequately and do not think highly of opinionated news,” she said. Boshoff’s paper also questions why journalism educators don’t scrutinise the disparity in class at universities.

Taking up the issue of creating curricular for students from different backgrounds, Senior Lecturer at Makerere University in Uganda, Dr. Monica Chibita, raised the question of how to teach journalism without losing its “Africaness” to western methods. Chibita said that journalism education in East Africa needs to teach students to produce locally relevant but not naïve texts. She addressed the need for journalism education to include teaching in English as well as local languages, computer skills and internships.

The need for internships in journalism education was also stressed in the paper by Dr. Lillian Williams from Columbia College in Chicago, USA. 

She demonstrated the importance of students undertaking internships, both for their own experience as well as a way of getting direct feedback about their abilities. It may be problematic however, Williams said, as the supervisor may be able to assess whether a student can write, but not their views on ethics or diversity.

Chibita says, entering the field during their tertiary education will ensure students are prepared to face the challenges that the field presents to them. 

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