The demand for journalism professionals has led to an increased demand for journalism students. Dr Monica Chibita of Makerere University in Uganda argued that weakening the training of students is the “numbers game”, in other words, a push to produce more students with journalism degrees. This has led to a decline of standards in some places, particularly in the area of language skills. It also means that students of undergraduate programmes might not have expertise in academic fields, such as the environment or economics, because they have spent their time studying communication. As journalism programmes might already be under-resourced, the addition of large numbers of students strain programmes even further.
As more journalism programmes emerge, questions arise about how they should be developed. While journalism training has historically been based in print media, this does not acknowledge the practical realities of Africa. Print mediums such as newspapers are challenged by barriers such as language and distribution. Other mediums, such as radio or possibly television, are better suited to the continent. However, many journalism schools do not provide instruction in these relatively technologically sophisticated media.
Dr Chibita also asked whether the creation of pre-requisites in courses such as geography or history affected the students admitted into journalism programmes. While such courses could help make better journalists, there’s the risk they are being taught at the expense of essential core studies.
She noted four issues for African journalism educators, who are utilising limited resources:
- Increase facilities for writing tutorials in departments that are already under-resourced;
- Train journalists with both general reporting skills as well as specializations such as environmental reporting;
- Provide journalism training in the university while being aware of the social and economic realities of society-at-large;
- Tackle larger economic and political issues while also meeting the needs of an audience whose access to media is limited by language barriers or financial limitations.
Makerere University’s journalism programme grew out of a pre-existing communication or language programme as did the programme at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. This evolution out of pre-existing programmes has contributed to curriculum confusion, the participants pointed out. Students who are studying journalism might find themselves studying prerequisites that are not directly connected to their field.
Dr Oyewo Oyeyinka Olusola, said Ibadan University’s participation in Unesco’s Centre of Reference programme has helped deal with this problem. Journalism programmes are being re-written to make them more streamlined, with courses related to communications, such as advertising, being removed from the programme.
The issue of standards in curriculum also arise at the University of Ibadan in the context of an explosion of journalism programmes in Nigeria. The number of training programmes for journalists had doubled in the country in the past four years, and the quality of these programmes has not been measured.
Professor Ralph A. Akinfeleye of the University of Lagos said that with the expansion of journalism training schools in Nigeria, more regulation was necessary, for reasons including:
- A lack of financial and human capital in training institutions.
- Inadequate funding
- A lack of powerful regulatory bodies and accreditation benchmarks
- Abandonment of journalistic principles and ethics
- Few existing legal frameworks – journalists unable to police their own ranks
Professor Akinfeleye argued that journalism in Nigeria in particular and Africa at large was being practiced as an occupation or craft. He affirmed that it should rather be treated like a profession and its proliferation should be restrained. To this end, government and professional bodies should co-existto screen applicants and applications for the establishment of journalism schools as well as close down unaccredited schools. In terms of resources, the admissions process should be such that programmes are not over-enrolled.
However, others at the conference cautioned that while these issues were a concern, regulation would by implication be conducted by government intervention. This was a risky proposition, as government intervention and regulation has historically had negative consequences for the freedom of the media.