By Enock Sithole 

Africa’s first post-colonial journalism school is developing a curriculum in indigenous languages to empower journalists who work in these languages without any formal journalism education.

Started by the first president of independent Ghana, Francis Kwame Nkrumah, in 1959, the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) remains the intellectual home for journalism in the country and the broader West African sub-continent.

                       Dr Modestus Fosu. Supplied

Spearheading the project to introduce a curriculum in indigenous languages is Dr Modestus Fosu, an Associate Professor in Language and Communication Studies at GIJ.

“In Ghana, indigenous language media outlets, particularly radio and TV, have 

boomed with over 85% of the stations broadcasting solely or partly in indigenous languages. This has expanded the frontiers of social and political participation in public spaces in ways that are enhancing political awareness and democracy in the country,” said.

However, he added, journalism education and training continue exclusively in English.  “It means the curriculum is in English but the products of the journalism schools are to broadcast in indigenous languages.”

Because most of the graduates from journalism schools may not be fluent or literate in the indigenous languages, owners of media that broadcast in indigenous languages have tended to employ people who are fluent in these languages but often lack skills in the craft and ethics of the journalism profession, said Dr Fosu.

 “Not surprisingly, there have been complaints about unethical broadcasting practices in the indigenous language broadcasting industry. This brings in the need to

have curricula in the indigenous languages to educate and train journalists who work in those languages.”

By introducing this curriculum, GIJ is going beyond the dilemma presented by the fact that there are several indigenous languages in African countries and it has proven difficult to choose one, or a few, for journalism education. “This largely explains why European languages continue to be the language of education in journalism,” argued Dr Fosu.

Journalists who work in media that use indigenous languages do not have any journalism training and end up practising their own form of journalism, distinct from the one practiced by journalists who have been formally trained.  

This has generated a debate on whether having two journalism streams is good or bad for the country. Dr Fosu said there were two schools of thought on the subject. One holds the view that it is not a good thing for indigenous languages journalists to work without any training and practice journalism that lacks some conventional norms of the profession.

The other school of thought argues that there should be no concern with this because journalism education in the country was not indigenous to Ghana and was informed by Western values. Therefore, the products of this education practice Western forms of journalism. In this regard, indigenous-language journalists, who did not have university training and pursued their own brand of journalism, were perhaps pioneering homegrown journalism, something that should be applauded.

Nonetheless, Dr Fosu is going ahead with the introduction of the curriculum in indigenous languages, starting with a certificate and a diploma. Bachelor and Master of Arts curricula will follow at a later stage.

Journalism education and training in Ghana is taught in both universities and non-academic institutions, offering vocational training. Training in some specifics of journalism production is also provided by foreign agencies through workshops and other fora. Internships in newsrooms are another component of journalism training which is prevalent in the country. 

Enrolments for journalism education are not as popular compared to other courses in law and the sciences. “Those who excel at the secondary level, very few of them come directly to do journalism,” he said, adding that journalism enrolments mainly come from mid-career journalists, who had been in the profession for a few years and needed to learn more or acquire an academic qualification. 

While the profession was popular because journalists were seen on TV, for example, the low wages in the career discouraged young people from choosing it. Because of the low pay, most journalists switched from journalism to public relations and communication or teaching. As a result, “that tradition of having very good journalists who remain as journalists and work till retirement is not very popular in this country”.

The manipulation of journalists, sometimes by politicians, has stigmatised the profession leading it to be less attractive. “And the risk factor about how society intimidates journalists and all these things together, are perhaps the reason why the profession may not receive the kind of attention that medical sciences or engineering and all these other professions will have in Ghana,” he said.

Similar to other countries, the issue of journalism graduates not being ready for newsroom work has been a talking point in Ghana. Dr Fosu blames a number of issues, including the fact that journalism schools are not able to offer sufficient practical education because of the huge numbers of students and the scarcity of facilities.  

“If you look at the numbers that enter to do journalism, you have very huge numbers of (up to a) 100 at a time in a class, particularly in undergraduate journalism classes, they are huge and large. So, giving each person the opportunity to do the practical things (training), we may not have it,” argued Dr Fosu. Nonetheless, “still we are able to produce some who go out there and they are top notch”.

The issue of graduates being inadequately prepared for the workplace cuts across other professions in the country due to a lack of facilities for practical training in learning institutions, said Dr Fosu. 

There is academic freedom in journalism education in the country, said Dr Fosu, adding that freedom of the press is guaranteed by the country’s constitution.