An American professor’s contributions to journalism education in Kazakhstan27 june 2011, 15:20
Christmas of 1995 was a life-changer for Dr. David Mould.
The Ohio University professor had just left Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, where he had started a journalism resource center under a joint United Nations-U.S.-government program.
He returned to a sumptuous Christmas party in Maryland with family and friends, complete with excellent food and gifts.
“I had come from a place that most of the time didn’t have power – and some people didn’t have food,” David said. It was at that moment, he noted, that “I decided to work in the developing world.”
David was in Osh only a month. The next year he took a 16-month break from Ohio University to return to Kyrgyzstan as a U.S. government-sponsored Fulbright professor.
His teaching at Kyrgyz National University and Kyrgyz Russian University made him aware of “serious flaws” in Central Asian journalism education, he said.
To start with, literature professors and not former journalists were teaching the courses. The question this posed was: How can a professor who has never been a journalist teach the skills needed for students to succeed in the profession?
Four years later, David began conducting journalism workshops and seminars in Kazakhstan, which he discovered had journalism-education shortcomings similar to Kyrgyzstan’s. His first mission in the country was conducting a “Training the Trainers Workshop” in Almaty in 2001. The sponsor was the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.
David has been coming to Kazakhstan once or twice a year since 2007 to conduct an array of journalism training programs. He retired from Ohio University in 2010, and this year obtained his second Fulbright professor appointment – at Eurasian National University in Astana.
I’m a longtime journalist and professor like David, so we’ve had fun swapping impressions of journalism and journalism education in Kazakhstan and other countries.
David doesn’t just point out problems, however. He addresses them. For example, he’s spearheading an effort to round up Russian-language study resources for the UNESCO Model Journalism Curriculum.
UNESCO decided some years ago that the development of a free press can be a key to a country becoming democratic. It also decided that many universities around the world weren’t doing a good enough job teaching journalism.
To encourage improvement, it assembled a group of experts to develop a model curriculum, which it unveiled in 2007. A number of universities around the world use all or some of the 14-course curriculum in their journalism programs.
The problem with using the model curriculum in the former Soviet Union is that it’s in English, not Russian.
In 2009, David began addressing the problem by assigning a Russian-speaking graduate teaching assistant at Ohio University to find readings. He asked journalism experts in the former Soviet Union to rate the readings on quality and how well they applied to the lessons. Readings with low ratings were eliminated.
The readings aren’t exactly the same as those in the UNESCO model curriculum. But each relates to a lesson topic.
Some of the reviewers have been from Russia – Moscow, Yekaterinburg and Kazan, for example. Kazakhstan reviewers have included professors from Kazakh National University, the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics and Strategic Research, Turan University and Eurasian National University.
David thinks a comprehensive set of readings will be ready before this year is out. The ones that are already available are at www.modelcurriculum.org.
Recently, David decided to broaden his effort by asking professors and journalists to help him develop Russian-language class assignments. For example: a class assignment that gives students experience in covering a press conference.
These practical assignments help journalism-program graduates do well on their very first day on the job. So news organizations love them.
Meanwhile, UNESCO is working with Kazakh National University to find reading materials for courses taught in Kazakh.
David is an understated guy, so he doesn’t thump his chest and seek credit for his efforts to improve Russian-language journalism education.
“It’s largely a labor of love,” he said. “I think it’s important.”
Journalism students in Kazakhstan would agree. Many complain that their training isn’t practical enough. What David is doing will not only help them – but future generations of journalism students.