UNESCO proposes new approaches to journalism education in Latin America
The Latin American Consultation Meeting on UNESCO’s Model Curricula for Journalism Education, organized by UNESCO’s Office in Quito and the Ecuadorian Private Technical University of Loja (UTPL), was held from 19 to 20 July 2011 in Loja, Ecuador.
Communication scholars, deans and experts as well as media practitioners from 11 different Latin American countries discussed UNESCO’s Model Curricula and its application in Latin American communication and journalism schools. Professor Michael Cobden of King’s College of Halifax (Canada), who coordinated the preparation of UNESCO’s Model Curricula at the international level; Alvaro Rojas Guzman, President of FELAFACS, Jaime Abello Banfi, Director of the Foundation for a New Iberian-American Journalism; and Alicia Casermeiro, Vice-president of the Latin American Council for Quality-control in Journalism Education (CLAEP), were some of the invited speakers.
In his presentation Michael Cobden provided an international perspective of current journalism education trends. He explained that the current digital revolution is truly democratic: people have tools to report, consume and analyze news. The role of universities is to guide students and to explain to them how to use those tools in order to produce high-quality contents. Moreover, according to Cobden, journalism schools should encourage students to challenge despotic governments, since without journalism there is no democracy and without democracy there cannot be good journalism.
During the different presentations, debates and workshops the participants provided inputs and recommendations for the application of UNESCO’s Model Curricula in the region. They suggested, for example, that the development of entrepreneurial skills should be introduced in the curricula, since nowadays journalists are often obliged to work as freelancers and to start their own online media companies.
One issue that was repeatedly underlined during the meeting was the current divorce between universities and mass media, and the consequent need to develop stronger links between them in order to ensure students’ employment after their studies.
It was also emphasized that journalists are neither marketing experts nor public relations specialists: journalism courses should be clearly separated from other communication subjects, even if these courses are placed under the same umbrella of communication faculties.
Another issue that was widely discussed was the importance of the combination of journalistic studies with a second discipline. This combination is a key aspect of UNESCO’s Model Curricula and allows the specialization of journalists, something very much needed in current societies. Although it is already a common approach in many European and North American universities, it is not so frequent in Latin America. Some experts expressed their fear, however, that opening journalism studies to non-journalism graduates could be risky, since there are hardly enough job opportunities for journalism graduates.
The participants also suggested adding “open-content courses” that can be adapted according to the latest needs of each university and each country; these courses would make the curricula more flexible and adaptable to emergent issues.
Another concrete recommendation stemming from the meeting was to propose teaching methodologies in the curricula, as very often the problem is not to teach but to teach it. In order to improve journalism education it is not enough to change current curricula: learning and teaching methodologies must also evolve and adapt to the new ways of knowledge acquisition. For this reason, participants agreed that the training of trainers is another important need in Latin America universities, particularly at master’s level.
The final recommendations of the meeting will be valuable inputs for the preparation of the second version of the Model Curricula as well as for the adaptation strategy to be implemented in Latin America in 2012-2013.
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