The National Training Authority (NTA) on 11 March 2013 formally accredited the GPU School of Journalism to provide journalism education in the country, an unprecedented development in a country that has never had a formal structure for journalism education. Under the terms and conditions of its licence, the GPU School of Journalism is mandated to offer journalism education up to a diploma level within the framework of the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in The Gambia. The NTA is the body responsible for the regulation of TVET in The Gambia.
Poor Training Weakens Professionalism
Because of the lack of a journalism school, most of the working journalists in the country are either without a formal education in journalism or professional training. The few who have the requisite qualifications or training have been educated abroad. Newcomers to the media have sporadic opportunities of mastering basic journalism as well as being updated on international developments in professional methods, standards, technologies. The upshot is that journalists in The Gambia are despised as join-the-lists, an epithet that suggests incompetence.
The Turning Point
However, with the coming into being of the GPU School of Journalism, Gambian journalism is now poised to redeem itself and entrench professionalism finally. The school has its roots in a two-year Danida-funded pilot project that ran from 2010 to 2012. Known as the Professional Reporter Programme (PRP), the pilot project sought to raise standards of Gambian journalism up to international level. Under the tutelage of senior Danish journalists and local experts, 12 trainees graduated in February 2012 to rapturous acclaim across the country and beyond. (Please visit http://www.gambiamediasupport.org/?page_id=533)
Unlike other training opportunities that had been offered in the country previously, the PRP provided depth and scope, coherence and system, innovation and creativity in its curriculum, pedagogy and methodology, thus positioning itself as a model for journalism education in the country. Because of its eclectic and practical nature, the PRP was lauded as “a revolution” in journalism education in The Gambia.
A Thorough Education
The GPU School of Journalism naturally builds on the PRP’s pedigree that follows a triple path: teaching journalism and media specialization along with general knowledge, analytical skills and English language skills. The education combines classroom sessions, distance learning and actual journalism production for print and radio on various development issues such as health, climate change, agriculture and poverty, public policy and public administration, the law and the legal system. Students receive a thorough education in:
- Core reporting skills; analytic skills; journalism training skills; English language skills; ICT skills; proactive news reporting; interviewing techniques; research methodology; spot reportage; feature writing; public and development communication; newsroom management, ethical journalism; journalism and society; narrative journalism; investigative journalism; and production skills.
- The education applies media theories to day-to-day practice, teaching how to meet the needs of the readers, listeners, or viewers and to set their agenda. Students specialize in either print or radio, but they also learn core skills in other media such as photojournalism and online journalism.
- Students have free access to a fully air-conditioned state-of-the-art computer laboratory equipped with 15 personal computers and 12 laptop computers with a WiFi facility in addition to a modern studio for hands-on training in radio journalism.
- Students are coached and mentored by a seasoned and dedicated faculty comprising Mr Marcel Thomasi, BA English, MA English (Leeds University) who is the head of the English Department; Mrs Raphina Almeida BA, MA (SOAS, United Kingdom), head of the Academic Section. Others include Mr Samuel Osseh Sarr BSc Hons Mathematics and Physics, Mr Hassoum Ceesay BA, MA History (University of The Gambia), Mr Madi Jobarteh BA Linguistics (University of Ghana), Lars Moller, Peter Kramholf, Flemming Seiersen, and Irmelin Viegas, Jesper Kjems, all graduates of the world-famous Danish School of Journalism.
The avalanche of applications that flooded the GPU Secretariat for the 2013/2015 academic session is proof positive of the relevance of this brand of journalism education. At least 100 applicants fought fiercely for only 20 available spots. Through a three-tiered selection process (a motivation statement, spelling out explicit arguments for attending the course; an entrance examination comprising 100 multiple-choice questions, a writing skills test and a analytic test; and then an oral interview), the top 20 candidates (at least eight females) were offered admission to begin their journalism education with zest and faith. While the current students receive full remission of tuition fees because the programme is still funded by Danida, subsequent enrolments will attract a tuition fee to be determined by the governing board in due course.
An Autonomous Board
The governing board of the school is composed of representatives of civil society, the private sector, the media, the government, and is autonomous of The Gambia Press Union. Its chairperson is Mr Almamy Fanding Taal, executive director of The Gambia Chamber of Commerce & Industry who doubles as the chairperson of The Gambia Agency for Management of Public Works. Other members include the secretary general of the UNESCO Office in Gambia (National Commission for UNESCO); the director of Information Services at the Ministry of Information and Communications Infrastructure; Dr Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap, a women’s rights organisation; the president of The Gambia Press Union, among others.