UNESCO initiative boosts journalism education in Africa

By Enock Sithole

A UNESCO initiative to strengthen journalism education in Africa has seen more than 735 journalism students, 556 journalists and 123 journalism educators and 10 journalism schools in different countries taking part and benefiting from the programme.

A statement from UNESCO said the projects, which followed a call for proposals to strengthen journalism programmes at schools across the continent, also saw significant capacity and expertise being built amongst staff and faculty members who participated. 

The 10 projects were implemented by schools in Ethiopia, Morocco, Kenya, Malawi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon, Ghana, Namibia, South Africa and Eswatini. They focused on data journalism, environmental journalism, gender diversity and representation in the news, media sustainability, and improving reporting on marginalised communities. 

“We have benefited greatly from this intervention by UNESCO,” said Moïse Bakundukize from the Department of Journalism at the Université Bilingue du Congo, which built the capacity for students and journalists to report better on the environment and climate crisis. 

“There is so much still to learn. For example, we noticed that gender plays a significant role in who is impacted by climate change, but we did not have the time to explore that properly (during the initiative).” 

Amongst the outcomes of their project is a partnership with a local community radio station on environmental reporting, and a platform that has been established where students and journalists can interact with experts on climate issues. “One journalist who participated in our training was so inspired he has now started his own media NGO focusing on environmental issues,” said Bakundukize cited by UNESCO.

Similar long-term impacts were reported by other projects, including new partnerships with media outlets for training and schools now being recognised as training leaders in their particular project focus area. New curriculums were also developed, and old ones updated. Besides running training interventions and short courses, the projects developed a toolkit for reporting on indigenous communities, a manual for environmental journalists, a sustainability model for community radio, and conducted research into revenue generation for African newsrooms.

“This was the first attempt at a short course initiated by the department,” said Nqobile Ndzinisa from the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Eswatini. Her department trained journalists from Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini in data journalism. “It was really a pilot. It has created the experience and desire to do more, such as running a course on financial literacy for journalists.” 

Closer relationships with practicing journalists, as well as with communities where field trips took place, were also formed. “One community we visited now stays in constant touch with us via a WhatsApp group that they set up,” says Wanja Njuguna from the Department of Journalism and Media Technology at the Namibia University of Science & Technology. She led field trips to a San community in Donkerbos and an Ovahimba community in Opuwo in Namibia in order to strengthen reporting on marginalised communities in the country. It was the first time the department had undertaken field trips like this since Covid-19, and the experience for Njuguna was transformative both personally and academically.  

“We now have a stronger curriculum based on real-life experience,” said Tamanda Kanjaye from the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at the Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences that is finalising a sustainability model for community radio in Malawi. “The current curriculum on community radio has been updated and adjusted following the field work because we realised that some things we were teaching were not accurate on the ground,” she said. 

All of the beneficiaries encouraged UNESCO to consider similar interventions in the future. They also expressed a strong need to continue the conversation about best practices in journalism education in Africa with other schools in the region so that they could learn more from each other’s experiences.

The UNESCO project included developing a set of criteria for excellence that can be used as a way for schools to self-evaluate their journalism programmes, and to identify strengths, weaknesses and gaps. This was developed through an extensive online consultation process with journalism educators and trainers in Africa, with over 100 educators participating in the consultations.

An overview of the key achievements of the project is available here.

The criteria can be downloaded here

This project was an initiative of UNESCO’s International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) and is coordinated by Wits University and Rhodes University (South Africa). It is supported by the Google News Initiative.  

For more on the UNESCO project on promoting excellence in journalism education, please visit: Promoting Excellence in Journalism Education in Africa

To discover UNESCO’s Series on Journalism Education, please visit IPDC’s Resources Hub.

This article was first published in the Ajen Newsletter