Saturday, 24 July, 2021

A Proposal To Improve Media Studies Curricula

Harsha Man Maharjan


Though Tribhuvan University (TU) and Purbanchal University (PU) started to offer education on Media Studies (journalism and mass communication) in Master's level in 2001, there still are rooms for improving these curricula. It is not that they have not been revised. TU had to revise the course to account for the semester system in 2014. PU also revised the curricula in 2013. The PU curricula are being revised. So this is the right time to discuss the ways to improve the curricula of these two universities.

Proposed papers
To address the change in the field of media and communication and to make students grounded in humanities and social science, I think five new papers should be introduced in the curricula.
The proposed first paper is "Disciplinary Debates".  Any discipline has a history and scholars in the field have debates about the past, present and future of the discipline, and students should be aware of such debates. Often such debates take place in journals specific to the discipline. Communication studies is a discipline which is related to journalism studies, media studies and media education.  However, the present syllabus does not contain any paper that includes such debates. Thus, while revising the course, such a paper can be included.
The second paper is "Social Theories and Concepts". This is important as communication studies is an interdisciplinary "discipline" that draws ideas from social science such as sociology, anthropology, political science, psychology, and economy. Students will be able to understand institutions, actors, processes related to media and communication, when they are equipped with theories and concepts from social science.
The third is "Critical Thinking and Academic Writing". Interestingly, students need to write term papers on different aspects of Communication and Journalism, but they struggle to do such assignments. Had there been a paper that taught critical thinking and academic writing, it would have been easy for students to do these assignments. However, in absence of the formal mechanism to impart such knowledge, often students don't know how to write academic writings such as journal articles, review essays, and book reviews. This paper will give practical knowledge regarding scholarly communication.
The fourth paper is "Digital journalism".  It is not that the existing curricula have totally ignored digital journalism. In fact, the PU course includes papers related to technical aspects of online journalism and the TU course has a paper called "Social media and online journalism".  As the number of online news media is increasing, it could be that more media people are working on these media than traditional newspapers, radio and television. Similarly, almost all traditional media are having online operations also because going online is cheap and timely. This transformation and transition of news media call for a paper focused on digital journalism. This paper should provide the state-of-art knowledge of the debates related to digital journalism.
 The fifth paper is "Digital Media". The curricula do include some aspects of digital media under different papers, but it is better to have a paper focusing on different aspects of digital media as our society has become datafied. Global digital companies have acquired power, which no state or empire has before. It has raised issues such as monopoly, surveillance, and inequality in the form of "surveillance capitalism". Both government and private entities are pushing digital transition and transformation of Nepali society and the ongoing pandemic has accelerated the scale of digitalisation of societies and countries on a larger scale. To make sense of this digitalisation, a paper focused on digital media could be introduced. It will make students aware of principles, concepts, and debates related to digital media.
 The sixth is "Nepali Society, Culture and Economy". Being an interdisciplinary discipline, the curricula of communication studies also need to include a paper on Nepali society, culture and economy. It could contain key writings of important scholars on Nepal from the disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, politics, and economy.

Suitable materials
Critics have pointed out that the books enlisted in required readings are outdated and don't fit the topics mentioned in papers. Often syllabi recommend books without carefully considering the topics and units, due to which students need to look for the materials suitable to the syllabus. To give a benefit of doubt, one can argue that the people who prepared these curricula wanted to make students active as they have to look for materials suitable for different units in the paper. However, the lack of specific readings betrays that the members of committees did not do enough homework while preparing the syllabus.  
The critics' concern can be corrected while revising the curricula. It is better to specific chapters of books or articles that fit to the topics and to prescribe recent materials when possible. This will make it easier for both teachers and students as they will know what to read and this will also increase the chance of having debates inside the classes.
The seven issues I have raised is my proposal for improving the curricula and to make them more useful and stronger. I have put it on table to have more debates on the ways to advance the discipline in Nepal.

(Maharjan is a senior researcher at an academic NGO Martin Chautari and writes on issues related to media and technology.)