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Journalism Education in Myanmar: Early Step a Giant Leap for Homegrown Media

©UNESCO

13.11.2013

06 November 2013: Yangon. Myanmar has found itself squarely in the international media spotlight, as news outlets from around the world converge on the country to document the historic changes taking place there.

However, while media from around the world descend on Myanmar, the country’s own fledgling journalism scene is making important early strides of its own.

Indeed, as CNN’s On The Road: Myanmar was airing in late October, one of the latest international news organizations to cover the country, the Department of Journalism at Yangon’s National Management College convened a series of workshops that could have major positive repercussions for the future of domestic journalism in Myanmar.

The workshops were in the lead-up to the department rolling out a new curriculum for its journalism programme – one that would put it on the path to becoming a journalism school in an internationally recognized sense.

The NMC is currently the only academic institution in Myanmar offering a formal journalism degree program.

When the journalism department opened in 2007, aspiring journalists were faced with a curriculum that was prepared by officials from the Ministry of Information. Myanmar was under military rule, meaning journalists did not operate in a democratic space.

The NMC was perceived a propaganda school, not least because its students received practical training in government media and were hired for similar duties upon graduation.

Now, as the country moves toward democracy, there is a greater need for journalists to protect and make use of their newfound freedoms as well as advocate for wider public space.

To this end, UNESCO believes that investing in journalism education is one of the best ways to institutionalize democratic principles in the country.

Sardar Umar Alam, UNESCO Myanmar Head of Office, said that the body believed a review and revision of journalism curriculum was an important first step.

“The curriculum must develop young journalists who do not only have the craft but also the correct mindset and adhere to the highest standard of the profession,” he said. “They must know and practice the essence of journalism in a democracy—to provide the public with timely and accurate information that ensures transparency and accountability from individuals and institutions.”

The new curriculum, expected to be implemented starting December 2013, is competency-based and has been benchmarked against the UNESCO Model Journalism Curricula. The new curriculum now includes subjects such as Journalism and Society, Journalism Ethics, and Media Laws. 

About half of the curriculum consists of practical subjects such as Reporting and Writing, Business and Economic Reporting, and Science Reporting. Innovative courses, such as Data Journalism and Interactive Journalism, offered by well-established journalism schools are also featured in the new curriculum.

According to UNESCO Myanmar Media Development Specialist Ramon R. Tuazon, the new curriculum will enable graduates to work across multiple media platforms—whether in print, broadcast and online.  

Myanmar journalists and editors also played a role in shaping the curriculum through their suggestions for training on specific skills currently lacking in the country.

Translation in Journalism, for example, is one of the courses that will be offered based on local journalists’ recommendations, as media organizations often find it challenging to translate different Myanmar languages and dialects into English and vice-versa. Reporting Diversity is another course that will be offered, as media professionals in the country recognized the ethnic and religious conflicts in the country and the need for careful reporting to avoid exacerbating the situation.

With the new curriculum, however, comes the need for teachers qualified in the subjects covered.

UNESCO and the department prepared a work plan to address this challenge. The plan includes providing continuing education for teachers, inviting veteran journalists to serve as part-time lecturers, and inviting expat journalism teachers both to hold classes of their own and to mentor local teachers.

A workshop was held recently with support from UNESCO to both upgrade the capacities of teachers as well as to introduce working journalists to their new role as teachers.

Twenty individuals, led by NMC principal Dr. Than Win and Department of Journalism head Dr. Margaret Wong, attended these courses.

Among the topics discussed during the session on Journalism Education were curriculum development; syllabus writing; innovative teaching strategies and tools; as well as student grading and assessment. The session on Teaching Journalism Production Courses focused on syllabus preparation for such subjects as Newspaper Journalism, TV Journalism, Radio Journalism, and Interactive Journalism.

Even participants with years of teaching experience said they learned a lot from the two courses.

“I discovered I do not have to be limited to ‘chalk and talk’ or classroom lectures only,” said Dr. Zin Mar Kyaw.

Another participant, tutor Hsu Thiri Zaw, said: “After attending the training courses, I am now fully convinced that I will be a full-fledged teacher.”

More follow up training courses are scheduled.

The course facilitators were Prof. Yvonne C. Chua, Ms. Monika Lengauer and Mr. Tuazon.

Prof. Chua has over 30 years of experience both teaching journalism and working in the field in the Philippines and other parts of Asia. She contributed to the syllabus development for UNESCO’s Model Curricula for Journalism Education. Ms. Lengauer helped set up the Jordan Media Institute and is now the project coordinator for the Myanmar Journalism School (MyJS), which initially aims to offer a diploma program for journalists to complement NMC’s undergraduate degree program. 

The MyJS is under the aegis of a consortium of development partners including Canal France International (CFI), DW Akademie, International Media Support (IMS), Fojo Institute and UNESCO. The Forever Media Group-Myanmar Media Development Center is a national partner. The initiative is being supported by the governments of Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden.

UNESCO’s Tuazon remarked on how in the past few people, journalists among them, were even aware of the existence of the NMC’s Department of Journalism.

 “When I talked to journalists and asked them how they can help the only journalism school in their country, almost all were surprised to know that they have one,” he said.

Now, however, the department is starting to gain visibility and support. “Today, not a week passes by without foreign and local visitors promising to give support to the school,” said Tuazon.

With this recognition and a growing trust in Myanmar’s widening democratic space, particularly among young people, the journalism department is going from near anonymity to increasing popularity. Over 1,000 high school graduates now apply every year for the 50 spots available in the journalism programme.

As political leaders continue to write a new chapter in Myanmar’s history, the country’s only journalism school is helping to put the country on a path where it can better tell its own stories to the world, while strengthening democracy in the process.

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UNESCO Myanmar Office Press Release

Reference: Ramon R. Tuazon (gr.tuazon-ramon@unesco.org)