Reflecting on being a potential UNESCO journalism centre of excellence

By Emily M Brown, Head, Department of Media Technology, Namibia Polytechnic

© Polytechnic of Namibia

An analogy which is often referred to in this part of the South African Development Community (SADC) region is that one learns to drive only after the driving test had been passed. It brought to mind how the components – the three criteria for excellence in journalism education – fell into place subsequent to our institution being informed in mid-2007 that the Department of Media Technology had been identified as a UNESCO (potential) Journalism Education Centre of Excellence. The scope and significance of the three criteria added impetus and gave direction to our approach to curriculum development and institutional capacity; professional, public service, external activity and recognition; and strategic planning and institutional potential. In order to provide further insight, I would like to deal with the three criteria separately.

Criterion A: Journalism Curriculum and Institutional Capacity

At the time of participation in the Centres of Excellence study, the Department of Media Technology offered only one qualification namely, a National Diploma in Journalism and Communication Technology -- a three-year qualification. However, much work had already been done with regard to stakeholder consultation (largely through the Department’s Advisory Committee), research and review of the Diploma curriculum, in order to introduce a Bachelor’s and Bachelor Honours Degree in Journalism and Communication Technology. At the end of 2008, the Senate of the Polytechnic approved the Bachelor and Bachelor Honours Degree submissions for implementation in January 2009. Research done within the Department had indicated that 99% of the current under-graduate students at the time, including those who had already graduated from the Diploma Programme, were interested in returning to register for the 4th year of study namely, the Honours Degree. Not only were the two qualifications closely aligned to the UNESCO Model Curricula for Journalism Education, but also conformed to the requirements of Namibia’s recently completed Qualifications Framework (NQF). With the introduction of the two Programmes at the start of 2008, the National Diploma qualification would be phased out by 2011.

Of importance with regard to the two new qualifications is the fact that it necessitated purpose-built facilities (for example, computer- and audio-visual laboratories; studios for both radio and television). By June 2008, in readiness for the implementation of the two new qualifications, we took occupancy of the new facilities for the Department of Media Technology in the newly built Science and Technology Building. Until then we had always operated in make-shift space, and having offices close to our classrooms, labs and studios proved to be a huge benefit. In addition to spatial requirements, the institution provided the necessary support in terms of appointing more academic staff. Since the introduction of the new programmes, two more academic staff members have joined the team, with two further offers of employment made for the position of Senior Lecturer. Interviews will be conducted soon for the position of Secretary, and this will bring welcome relief, especially for the Head of Department.

Each student admitted to the two programmes is provided with a workstation. In the Department we operate from an Apple Macintosh platform, in order to be more responsive to the needs of industry. While this decision accounts for the biggest part of the Department’s budget, we have reaped the benefits of this decision in that our students are highly sought-after by the media industry.

Criterion B: Professional, public service, external activity and recognition

This article will focus on two of the Department’s major initiatives since being afforded Centre of Excellence status. These are the Digital National Archive (DNA) and the Gender in Media Education (GIME) Projects. UNESCO has subsequently become involved in the DNA Project and has been involved in the GIME Project since inception. Of significance is that both these projects carry a huge capacity-building component and are also partner-oriented. Both would be of benefit to society a -large, which means that they are primarily of long-term duration. The DNA project started as a formal partnership between the Polytechnic of Namibia (through the Department of Media Technology) and Utah Valley University in the United States of America. In terms of archival systems training, our partner institution has since the outset spent a period of one month annually (in July) when skills are transferred to students and staff alike. The project has been extended to Information Technology (IT) students, because of the technology-intensive component. Another important formal partner in this project is the National Archives of Namibia, where the need is great in terms of storing documents, slides, photographs, maps and artefacts, and to increase accessibility on the part of students, researchers and the community in general to the aforesaid items.

The GIME project stems from a proposal submitted by the Department of Media Technology to the UN System, seeking support for an initiative aimed at mainstreaming gender into journalism curricula. The proposal emphasised a role for other tertiary institutions offering media or journalism programmes, and this resulted in the first audit of journalism departments in Namibia with regard to gender in the curriculum. This project is ongoing, and the Namibian findings have served as a case study for other tertiary institutions in the SADC region offering journalism programmes.

Criterion C: Development plan, strategy and institutional potential

The Polytechnic of Namibia conducts her activities according to a five-year Strategic Plan. Each department – both academic and administrative – has such a plan in place. The current plan is for the period 2009 to 2013. In the Strategic Plan of the Department of Media Technology, it is envisaged that once the Master’s Programme in Journalism is introduced, the Department would submit a request for “School” status. Such a school would then also have a Gender Unit – in order to do justice to continuous training and research regarding mainstreaming gender into journalism curricula – as well as offering Degree Programmes up to the PhD level. The institution has been extremely supportive of the Department’s initiatives, especially because of project work resulting in increased capacity and valuable partnerships.

Whatever the decisions taken in a Department such as this, it should always be done with our industry stakeholders in mind. It is especially there that the results of such decision-making would reverberate. Continuous consultation and partnerships have afforded us the opportunity to share and to learn, and such learning leads to growth. I would like to end this reflection with a quote from a message sent to the HOD by the Executive Director of Gender Links, Ms Colleen Lowe Morna, with regard to one of our senior students whom they had hosted for a period of six months, for the purpose of Experiential Learning (a compulsory credit-bearing course in the Degree Programme):

“I can't help but think of DANIDA's "people-to-people" idea: it’s the best way of building institutional links; so good that we have started to formalise our internship programme. We really benefited from the PON requirements; they helped us to jack up our approach; also good to know that you take internships so seriously. Look forward to more collaboration”.

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