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Planting a new seed in the N.U.S. Journalism Programme

The role of the media has never been so important than in this day and age with Samoa and the rest of the world in the throngs of an Information Age.

The availability of large amounts of information to consumers, at the touch of a smartphone button, can be a mind boggling experience. Throw in ‘fake news’ and you can imagine the confusion that readers face on a daily basis, consequently increasing their vulnerability to misinformation on issues that matter.

We know the price that one can pay for misinformation, as it means we have disempowered citizens and communities, who are incapicitated and are not in a position to make informed decisions for their benefit based on news and information that is impartial, objective and is based on the truth.

Therefore, the story titled “University to shelve journalism programme in 2021”, published in the February 20, 2020 edition of the Samoa Observer, should worry everyone who believes in the role of the media and press freedom in Samoa.

The article is based on comments by the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Alec Ekeroma, which revealed the university’s plan to shelve the Communications, Media and Journalism Programme in 2021.

Low student enrollment in the programme this year forced the university’s hand, but Professor Ekeroma says its shelving will enable work to start on restructuring its curriculum, before it is relaunched in the future.

"Since the enrollment in the programme is low this year, consistent with policy, we have decided to shelf the program and will relaunch in the future after a restructuring of the curriculum that reflects the needs of the market and employers,” he said in an email response. “In the meantime, we will continue to offer tutorials to the few students who are about to complete the program as part of our duty of care to our students.”

The N.U.S. Journalism Programme has had its challenges over the years with access to resources a major hurdle, and the recruitment of qualified lecturers a bridge too far for the university administration.

As Samoa’s only daily newspaper, we have had N.U.S. journalism graduates as well as students join our newsroom as permanent employees or do internships to gain experience, before moving on to other jobs.

It is common knowledge that the N.U.S. Journalism Programme has been plagued by various problems including the lack of proper textbooks, outdated computers and shortage in video and SLR cameras. 

Not to mention the absence of qualified lecturers with higher postgraduate degrees to effectively take ownership and lead the undergraduate programme.

Hence any decision by an authority – be it a university administration or a government ministry – to shelve a journalism training programme of a national university should not be taken lightly. It could be the nail in the coffin for a programme, which tried its best to nurture the next generation of journalists in trying circumstances.

But Professor Ekeroma has gone on public record to highlight the N.U.S. administration’s plan to revise the programme in 2021 and relaunch the revised curriculum in the future.

Thankfully, the groundwork was done last year, with an external review of the Faculty of Arts courses commissioned by the N.U.S. recommending a restructure of the programme.

"The recommendation is for the program to be restructured to better reflect the curriculum and the availability of qualified staff," said Professor Ekeroma.

The Media Association of Samoa (J.A.W.S.) has urged the N.U.S. administration to begin consultations with the industry when the process gets underway next year to restructure the Communications, Media and Journalism Programme.

It is a fair call and an important one too. Industry input into the formulation of a curriculum to train Samoa’s up-and-coming journalists, is critical for the university programme’s long-term success.

Therefore, the decision by the N.U.S. administration to shelve the journalism programme in 2021, should be a blessing in disguise for Samoa’s thriving media sector. It is an opportunity to do a postmortem of the programme, identify the bottlenecks, and work to ensure the new course is adequately resourced and staffed with qualified lecturers.

We say this having seen the quality of workmanship displayed by graduates in our newsroom falling short of industry expectations, but now hoping that the restructure will address the underlying factors, which has made the programme unattractive over the years to Samoa’s best and brightest children. 

Some questions that come to mind in this whole exercise is whether the low prerequisite standards for the programme set by the university prior to its shelving is a reason for the low student interest in journalism? And is this a reflection of the overall attitude towards journalism in Samoa?

On that note, it must be stated that we take our jobs as a member of the Fourth Estate seriously, and would want Samoa’s only Journalism School to ensure its graduates are ready to take on the challenges of working in an industry, that continues to evolve in the 21st Century and beyond.

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless.

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