More theory or more practice? And can academic curricula reflect developments in the African media sector? These were the focus of a DW Akademie panel discussion held at this year's DW Global Media Forum.
There shouldn't be a "theory vs practice" debate for academic journalism programs, the four panelists agreed. And this didn't apply just to Africa. "Academic reflection and practical skills can be combined in academic journalism programs everywhere," said Professor Stephen Jukes, journalist and Dean of Bournemouth University's Media School in Britain. In Africa he'd observed a tendency to focus more on practical skills due to development-related issues. "In this case," he reasoned, "academic reflection can come later."
Professor Guy Berger of UNESCO's Paris-based Freedom of Expression and Media Development, pointed to a scarcity of local, African, academic material. "Most journalistic textbooks and research still come from the U.S. and the U.K." Some local material could be found on the Internet, he said, and some local textbooks were also available. He not only encouraged African journalism departments to exchange their material but also for western universities to include this material in their own curricula.
Changing a curriculum to reflect new media developments can take years, said Stephen Jukes referring to his own university. "Our solution in the interim is to introduce new classes and drop less relevant ones."
New technology and new research methods
"We'll have the advantage of being a small institute", said Nazeer Aziz Ladhani, project director for the planned Graduate School of Media and Communications at the Aga Khan University in Nairobi, Kenya. "We'll be able to offer new technology, new research methods, and take more risks than larger institutes. So if any of our projects fail, our costs won’t be as high."
DW Akademie's International Media Studies (IMS) program for graduate students from developing and transition countries has developed a curriculum combining theory and practice. "And we've also introduced a third element," said Professor Christoph Schmidt, head of the IMS program. “It looks at media management and executive skills so that when graduates return to their own countries, they're qualified to work in a variety of areas within the media sector."
In the closing round, Guy Berger stressed that media-related skills not be reserved for media institutes only. "We need to start with media literacy at the school level so that students can also learn about the benefits and precautions of using Facebook, YouTube and other social media. And to do this, we also need to train school teachers working in the classroom."
The panel discussion was moderated by Patrick Leusch, head of DW Akademie's Project Development. DW Akademie conducted a number of panel discussions and workshops at DW's annual Global Media Conference in Bonn. This year the three-day conference focused on Culture, Education and the Media.