Ambitious in Theory but Unlikely in Practice: A Critique of UNESCO's Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Emerging Democracies

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INTRODUCTION AND STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM

In the summer of 2007, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) introduced its new Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Emerging Democracies (1) at the World Journalism Educators Congress sponsored by the Asian Media Information Centre, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and other international journalism education organizations. It was drafted by an impressive group of international experts and perhaps reflects United Nations dedication to impartiality and neutrality by wholly avoiding discussion or identification of anticipated country-specific or region-specific impediments to its adoption. It concentrates on the "nuts and bolts" of implementing what it assumes to be a universally adaptable guide for building a quality journalism program.

The UNESCO report fails to discuss perhaps-insurmountable obstacles and problems that will invariably arise when poor countries, authoritarian countries, and countries with strong cultural and religions constraints on "democratic journalism" go about the process of implementing the model, in whole or in part. Yet history informs us that no single model of journalism education is universally applicable. (2)

Designers of the model curricula promote it as a vehicle to improve journalism education worldwide. Although not explicitly stating so, UNESCO appears to assume that this generic model is universally applicable in diverse national, social, economic, political, and cultural contexts. Yet there is a crucial distinction, as Krimsky would draw, between adopting a model on one side rather than using experiences elsewhere as precedents. (3) It is important to recognize the severity of obstacles to implementation, even in a globalized world where many physical, cultural, and political borders are blurring or disappearing. Although UNESCO's efforts in guiding international journalism education and seeking to improve journalistic practices are laudatory, both obvious and understated obstacles exist to adopting the model in many developing nations. This article attempts to identify obstacles most likely to be so insurmountable that it would be ineffective, a waste of limited resources, and, in some instances, even dangerous for educators attempting implementation.

Some of the general, anticipatable, and most visible barriers to adopting its Western-centric curricula are: (1) lack of qualified faculty to teach recommended courses; (2) inadequate computer equipment, instructional materials, and support to conduct practical and investigative courses; (3) students without requisite educational backgrounds and language abilities to succeed with the rigorous, challenging content the report advocates; (4) university administrative structures that protect corrupt practices and cannot effectively recruit, compensate, and retain qualified faculty; and (5) a scarcity of profitable media organizations to attract successful graduates and reward them with jobs that allow them to practice their new skills. Other macro-level obstacles include: insufficient financial resources to provide such education; incompatibility with a country's historical, religious, political, and cultural values; and governmental controls on the press and university curricula. (4) In addition, students who graduate with this kind of education may be overqualified for low-paid domestic journalism jobs that are available, although they may be good candidates for employment by government or business. The well-educated, skilled, and motivated graduates we would expect from programs based on such curricula would also be prime candidates for emigration to developed nations, graduate study abroad, or jobs with foreign rather than domestic news agencies.

On a micro-level, the detailed subject matter UNESCO recommends for basic and advanced courses raises questions about: availability and suitability of predominantly North American and Western European content; availability and appropriateness of suggested texts and instructional materials; and suitability of course-specific pedagogical approaches that the report advocates. …