Wanted: New paradigms for communication and media scholarship
Humans are dynamic; so is society and the activities that drive it. As a result of this fluidity, the thirst for knowledge grows by the day and new ways of doing things emerge. In most human endeavours, therefore, conservatism is giving way to liberalism; not just for the sake of it, but in response to new realities and possibilities.
In spite of the great appetite of Nigerians for advancement in all areas, especially in the knowledge industry, the Nigerian academia is still ensnared by an incurable virus of conservatism in curricula contents and staffing policies. In most Nigerian public universities, courses that are more practical than theoretical are still stuffed with theories that are either outdated, irrelevant or inapplicable to the realities of practice. One area suffering from this needless rigidity is Media and Communication Studies or Mass Communication.
Based on personal experience as a media practitioner of over two decades; a media scholar and teacher of about the same time frame, and regular interaction with students from media and communication departments of our various universities, it is overwhelmingly evident that, in most cases, these students are not really exposed to the practical aspects of the courses in school. Two major reasons account for this. One is the dearth of basic teaching aids, equipment or facilities. The other is that many teachers of media and communication in our universities have also never practised what they teach to the effect that they may not even be able to use the equipment where available. Some of them brandish periodic consultancy engagements as practical media experience. And the gap between theory and praxis continues to widen.
Earlier in the year, I had attempted to articulate the need to, urgently, bridge this gap in an academic paper submitted for possible publication in a very popular Nigerian journal of communication and media. In it, I drew attention to the fact that extant media and communication curriculum in the country has continued to stress the ideological dimensions of the field, while less attention is given to the experiential.
The ideological, to me, is the theoretical; just an idea; a thinking and not the real experience. For instance, democracy is an ideology while the practice of it is the experience. In communication, for example, the agenda setting theory is an ideology but how a reporter or a media organization sets agenda is the experience. I also argued that media and communication scholarship is eclectic. This explains why Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a Medical Doctor, is a Producer and Presenter on CNN. I reasoned that the current policy of ‘fencing’ people who have no ‘core communication certification’, but with cognate field experience in the area, from teaching in our ‘Mass Communication’ Departments is a clear manifestation of this preference for the ideological rather than the experiential. I concluded by stating that communication and media studies are broad and wide; are essentially, practical, and should be approached that way in curricula contents and staffing by our universities.
My manuscript assessment report was shocking. Without addressing the relevance, propriety and logicality of the issues raised in the manuscript, the assessor described the position I canvassed as a vendetta against Mass Communication Departments in the country. Vendetta for proposing a paradigm shift in order to teach the course better and get its graduates ready for employment? Besides, I was asked to rework the paper and to cite more Nigerian authorities on this development as most of my sources are foreign! I had also been accused, in a different intervention, of harbouring some personal ill feelings towards the Nigerian university system because I opined that the system is centuries behind the rest of the world in form and content.
I was in a state of consternation over these comments until I read an interview granted by a highly respected teacher of Mass Communication, Professor Lai Oso, in The Guardian of Monday, 15 August, 2016. The Professor, like I did in my paper, also canvassed a more practical approach to teaching journalism in Nigeria. According to the report, “Oso gave the advice against the backdrop of mass communication graduates finding it hard to fit into the practical aspects of their training in the newsroom’’. He is also quoted as saying the NUC’s minimum benchmark provides some balance between theory and practical aspects of journalism.
“ I think the problem that we have is this insistence on Ph.D. Many lecturers today have Ph.D., the theory, but they have never practised journalism. They teach news writing, more or less, from the textbook, but not based on their experience in the field. NUC people came and said everybody must have Ph.D. without making a distinction between some courses that are both practical and theoretical’’. The erudite Professor’s position has ended my consternation and validated my thoughts. How I wish the assessor of my manuscript would grant a counter interview to also accuse the Professor of vendetta.
In April 2016, I attended a Decolonizing the Academia Conference at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. The objective of the conference was how to make African Studies more relevant to Africa and the realities of the 21st Century. I had the privilege of making a presentation on the need to indigenize media and communication studies in Nigeria. Based on a documentary analysis of curriculum of media and communication studies in ten representative Nigerian universities, public and private, the presentation confirms that significant emphasis is still placed on foreign and outdated contents that have little or no relevance to media practice in Nigeria and the realities of the new age. How often do Nigerian academics and curriculum developers pause to assess the impact and relevance of curricula contents?
This is why Professor Oso’s views are timely. And coming from a scholar of his calibre, they may not be dismissed as vendetta against Mass Communication Departments. Truth is a lot of media and communication graduates are unemployable because they are not adequately exposed to the practical aspects. And this is so because a good number of their teachers, too, have no field experience. It is, thus, a logical matter of reaping what is sown.
There is, therefore, no better time for introspection than now. No employer will ask communication and media graduates about the number of theories they were taught. Focus is rather on ability to deliver. I recall that I was not asked about any theory when I submitted to the mandatory test for intending reporters at The Guardian in 1992. I was rather given stories to write and assignments to cover. My experience was similar when I auditioned to be Announcer/ Newscaster at BCOS Ibadan and, subsequently, NTA Channel 7. I was given scripts to read straightaway. On both occasions, it was my practical writing courses and speech classes at the university that came to my rescue.
Mass Communication, Media and Communication Studies, Communication Arts, or any other name we prefer to call these field, will grow when we shed our current conservative approaches to curriculum, staffing and teaching, and embrace new paradigms. These paradigms include greater focus on the practical aspects; stronger relations with the industry and removal of the fear that our ‘territories’ may be invaded by ‘professionals’, if we allow them to come in and teach. Nothing also stops media teachers from acquiring practical experience post-PhD. It will strengthen rather than diminish their ‘territories’. Far from being a vendetta from a younger and unknown media scholar like this writer, Professor Oso’s words are words of an elder, an accomplished scholar and teacher, and are, therefore, words of wisdom. Such words have a way of coming to pass.
Dr. Oladokun, a media practitioner, scholar and teacher wrote from Abuja via firstname.lastname@example.org
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