All Change for Afghan Journalism Teaching
A conference hosted by IWPR in Kabul has approved a new framework for the way Afghan universities teach journalism. Participants say the proposed curriculum will make teaching more relevant to the modern age and the real challenges that face working journalists, but flexible enough to accommodate differences between journalism schools around the country.
The August 26-28 Kabul Journalism Conference, held in conjunction with Afghanistan’s ministry of higher education and funded by the United States embassy, ended with participants endorsing the basic contours of a new national journalism curriculum.
The curriculum framework, designed to standardise the teaching of journalism across Afghan universities, was drafted at two discussions which IWPR hosted earlier this year, bringing local academics together with colleagues from the United States. (See Afghan Journalist Training Reform One Step Closer.)
The conference was attended by 30 professors and lecturers from ten Afghan institutions – Kabul, Balkh, Herat, Khost, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Baghlan, Badakhshan, Laghman, and Kapisa – and from four American universities which have been working with them under the Afghanistan Journalism Education Enhancement Programme, funded by the United States embassy in Kabul. The US institutions are the universities of Nebraska, San Jose, Arizona and Ball State, Indiana.
The government was represented by the deputy minister of higher education, Gul Hassan Walizai, and by Mohammad Hashim Esmatullahi, who sits on the presidential board that appoints senior state officials. Kabul University Chancellor Habibullah Habib was also present.
The need for a common curriculum grew out of a common realisation that the teaching provided in higher education was ill-adapted to the real world, especially the challenging environment that Afghan journalists operate in.
“Our experience of working with Afghan journalists over the past decade has underscored the enormous obstacles faced by local reporters,” IWPR’s Afghanistan country director Noorrahman Rahmani said in his opening remarks at the conference. “Often they experience direct repression by those in power and the armed opposition groups, a dearth of resources, and a lack of professional support.”
The dean of the Baghlan Journalism School, Homayun Rahyab, noted that while other academic disciplines had adopted common curricula, journalism schools were the exception.
“Every journalism school has designed its own curriculum based on individual views and perhaps the local environment,” he said.
His colleague Nematullah Sarwari, dean of journalism and mass communication at Herat University, spoke of the “huge differences between journalism schools and the subjects they teach”.
“The newly developed national curriculum will respond to these challenges. The curriculum will unify the theoretical and teaching approaches of journalism schools, and hence enhance and promote Afghan national unity,” he said.
Under the proposed arrangements for the new curriculum, journalism faculties will be divided into two departments – journalism proper and public relations. To give future reporters a more solid grounding, they will have an option to specialise in one of five subject areas – political science, economics, defence, healthcare and the environment, and arts and sport. The curriculum content will be designed to allow individual institutions to select those components they need and are able to use, rather than being forced to apply the whole thing.
The result, according to Babrak Miakhel, dean of journalism at Nangarhar University, is a “better foundation for journalism”.
“The teaching of journalism teaching will respond to the times and to the needs of the markets. We will have more professional journalists, and courses and objectives that we haven’t had so far,” he added.
Terry Heifetz, who is News Director at Indiana Public Radio as well as lecturing in telecommunications at Ball State University, said he had initially been hesitant about the idea of a common curriculum for all Afghanistan journalism schools, but “the final product of the conference changed that”.
“The curriculum that was approved is rigorous. More importantly, it is flexible. Schools with fewer resources do not need to commit to as much as schools with more resources. The solution is not a one-size-fits-all solution. It can be customised for each university,” he said. “It was also important to bring Afghanistan's new journalism programmes into the equation. They were able to hear what has been done already. They can now tap into the expertise of the established journalism schools; they can be part of the network that is now established.”
Faisal Karimi, who lectures at Herat University, said the conference had achieved a “revolution” in the way journalism was taught.
“This programme is the most successful move yet in strengthening journalism. We achieved more than we anticipated. We approved this new curriculum framework by pooling the input, views and recommendations of 60 participants - journalism lecturers, media practitioners and reporters,” he said. “We can now say that we have the richest curriculum in the region now…. Implementation of this curriculum will lead to a great change in journalism in this country.”
To oversee next steps towards shaping and rolling out curriculum content, conference participants supported a proposal first advanced by Deputy Higher Education Minister Mohammad Usman Babury for a coordinating committee drawn from the participating Afghan journalism faculties. The 17-member committee will work with the ministry – which ultimately has to approve the curriculum – and to liaise with the American partner universities. Its first tasks will be to take the draft document forward, and to identify specific needs of the academic institutions concerned, and possible.
This last issue – ensuring that resources are in place to allow the new curriculum to be taught – was one raised by several Afghan lecturers. As Fardeen Ayar, a lecturer at the journalism department at Al-Biruni University in Kapisa, said, “While I see this [curriculum] as a great gift for journalism practitioners, I am concerned about the challenges that newly-established journalism schools might face in implementing it. The main focus of this curriculum is on practical matters, and that requires advanced software and a range of radio and TV studios. Many journalism schools lack these resources at the moment.”
For many, the conference and the meetings that preceded it were the first opportunities they had ever had to get together and share ideas.
“This is the first time in the history of Afghan journalism that journalism professors have gathered under one roof,” Zabiullah Haidari, a lecturer at Kabul University’s Journalism School, said. “We’re lucky to have about 11 journalism schools and departments around the country, but they have been rather isolated and unaware of each others’ progress…. In short, the conference has put an end to the lack of interaction among journalism schools. Now they will ensure better communication among themselves.”
As Rahmani noted, the broader aim is to produce a class of journalists who are better able to hold their leaders to account.
“Establishing professional standards and quality in journalism will put those in power under the spotlight, help communities to reconcile their differences, and lay the groundwork for stable and democratic development,” he said. “People will not be able to make informed decisions without access to reliable, truthful, credible and ethical journalism.”