Cornell University (Colle); Lady Irwin College, University of Delhi (Khanna)
"As most of the nations of the world subscribe to the Sustainable Development Goals and their 2030 targets, it becomes increasingly important that the potential of using communication knowledge, skills, ethics, and technology intelligently and strategically be made more prominent in the academic world."
In light of the observation that information and communication technologies (ICTs) like computers and mobile phones (especially smart phones) have increasingly become available to people in developing nations - changing the ways they live, work, and learn - this paper explores a strategy for using ICTs to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The approach that authors Royal D. Colle and Aparna Khanna outline involves community learning centres, universities, and the application of communication for development (C4D). The paper was prepared for presentation at the International Conference on Education, Psychology and Social Sciences (ICEPS), Bangkok, Thailand, August 2-4 2017.
As Colle and Khanna assert, one of the keys to development in many nations is the creation of various kinds of community centres that provide access to lifelong education for economically poor and marginalised people. They trace the long history of what United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has called "vibrant centres of learning." The idea of creating these centres in Nepal goes back to the 1980s when about 154 village reading centres were established across the country to provide community-based post-literacy and continuing education training programmes. The reading centre concept was later broadened into the Community Learning Centre (CLC) programme, which is designed for out-of-school children, youth, and adults from marginalised rural and urban communities. Through various government processes and international funding, Nepal established more than 800 CLCs and had the ambitious goal of establishing one in every village. The CLC project launched by UNESCO/Bangkok has been operational since 1998. CLCs now exist in 24 countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region and 10 countries in the Arabic-speaking world. There may be as many as 170,000 CLCs in the Asia-Pacific Region, some established by governments, some by non-governmental organisations, and most operated by local communities. On a much smaller scale, in Africa, since 2007, Maarifa Community Knowledge Centres have been established in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. There is now an effort by UNESCO to promote the connectivity of the Asian learning centres, and in the African situation, there is an explicit effort to use multi-media tools to enhance learning for increasing socio-economic empowerment.
A recent project in northeast Thailand illustrates the potential of involving university students with communication skills in the real-life laboratory of community development. It took place in the framework of the academic strategy called "engaged learning" (also referred to as service-learning). Colle and Khanna explain that engaged learning emphasises students taking their credit-based university learning into the practical world outside the university to help local people meet some of their development needs. The students then reflect (learn) from the intersection of community and university. For example, a new museum in the Ku Santarat area of northeast Thailand took advantage of regular visits of Mahasarakham University (MSU)'s Faculty of Informatics staff to express a need for help in making the museum's collection available "virtually" to visitors, and for creating within the museum a CLC. MSU has a set of policies for all faculties and units that requires that they engage communities through a programme called One Program, One Community. Approximately 100 students and 10 faculty members from the Faculty of Informatics participated in teams to collect, organise, and manage data related to the history, antiquities, and other features of the surrounding cultural sites. The pilot project concentrated on developing the data base and the webpage for the project and teaching local people how to manage them. "In engaged learning, students are active and they gain a sense of civic responsibility in their engagement with communities. The Thai project also demonstrated that university students can assist people in the community in a variety of ways to help people make constructive use of ICTs and digital connectivity....Another generalization is that the process can excite faculty, students and members of the community through the building of partnerships and teams."
Among the other examples provided here of engaging university students in community development is the Each One Enable One programme of the Department of Development Communication and Extension at Lady Irwin College (University of Delhi, India) during the last 25 years. Each year, more than 200 undergraduate students and faculty work on a one-to-one basis with a person from a less privileged background imparting functional literacy skills and life skills. Post-graduate students of the same department have been closely associated with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the area of mental health, substance abuse recovery, health and nutrition, sanitation, life skills, and gender empowerment. Students have been providing need-based communication media and strategies to conduct awareness campaigns, mobilise communities and other stakeholders, provide training and capacity building of frontline staff, and offer monitoring and evaluation support. As noted here, the process is very time- and energy-intensive for the faculty and requires deft management to achieve the objectives within the framework of a curriculum and a university calendar.
Next, Colle and Khanna examine advances during the past five years in Asia and the Pacific region in getting universities to offer courses related to C4D. Their emphasis has been on using ICTs for development. For example, the UN's Asia and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT/ESCAP)'s "Turning Today's Youth into Tomorrow's Leaders" programme seeks to create a cadre of future leaders equipped with the capacity to use ICTs for achieving development goals. Its approach has been to produce materials that universities can use to incorporate ICT in undergraduate and graduate programmes at universities in the Asia-Pacific region. Its Primer Series of publications aimed at university students has been rolled out in 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. However, the C4D approach is broader in scope than the emphasis on ICT for development. C4D includes a greater emphasis on social science aspects of a communication intervention including, for example, theory and principles, intervention and behavioural research, audience analysis, message design, and strategic planning. ICT for development (ICTD) projects are inevitably part of a larger communication intervention.
An early form of C4D in Asia was the introduction of the Department of Development Communication and Extension at Lady Irwin College which was established in 1964 as Rural Community Extension under the aegis of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Government of India. The curriculum offered by the Department trains women students to understand contemporary development issues and perspectives of the family and community. Teaching, research and extension are an integral part of the paedagogy. Enhancing the capacities of the students in participatory methods and innovative research techniques is at the core of the curriculum. Internships and field experiences are an essential part of the teaching-learning process and help students to acquire appropriate skill sets.
Realising the need for strengthening the C4D component in India, in 2010-11, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)/India launched a mapping exercise to identify institutions offering courses in C4D or institutions having the capacity to offer or interest in launching courses in C4D. This exercise identified 10 institutions situated across the length and breadth of India. UNICEF brought them all together to share experiences and to further their capacity to offer C4D in their curricula. In 2013, this exercise culminated in the publishing of Communication for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC) learning modules for academic and training institutions in India by UNICEF. These 9 modules provide a framework to educate students and adult learners to work as professionals in the CSBC domain. It is envisaged that by suitable adaptations the modules may be useful in designing C4D courses globally. These modules are available on the UNICEF IEC eWarehouse, a repository of communication materials. More recently, in 2017 UNICEF/India set up Tarang, a Social and Behaviour Change Communication Capacity Building Hub, with an online e-training centre offering paid training programmes in partnership with an NGO based in New Delhi. The issues that need to be addressed remain as with the CSBC initiative - along with issues of internet connectivity and access to suitable technology interface, there are considerations including official recognition of the course, certification, and accreditation. In 2017, UNICEF/India also initiated Dhara, a social and behaviour chagne communication (SBCC) seminar series that focuses on various themes and shares data, evidence, and experiences from projects supported by UNICEF in India.
Colle and Khanna discuss a recent online discussion explored the state of C4D in universities. The discussions took place during March to May 2017 on The Communication Initiative (CI) Network platform (where membership is free and open but must be approved by a moderator). The discussants included practitioners and academics who work in the area of communication, media development, and social and behaviour change. It was observed that 28 members from 16 countries (representing all continents) actively participated in the discussion, with more than 60 contributions. The discussion was initiated when a member from Zimbabwe posted her views regarding the lack of C4D modules in university courses. Nearly all the discussants expressed a need to reach out to academia, as they are responsible for developing the human resources for implementing C4D. It was pointed out that not many universities offer degree courses in C4D. However, several universities offer graduate courses in journalism, public relations, and marketing, and many of their graduates are employed as C4D experts by UN and national and international NGOs. It was expressed that these graduates are often found to lack theoretical knowledge and application of C4D strategies.
Discussants also perceived a gap between the academics and the field reality. This gap resulted in communication experts focusing on public relations, advertising, and marketing of development projects, programmes, and services to influence donors and decision makers instead of working towards changing behaviours and promoting development agendas. Such communication experts were also found to focus on promoting information and knowledge in grassroots communities rather than changing behaviours and practices. All the discussants agreed that well-trained and qualified C4D professionals were urgently needed to mainstream C4D in the development agenda from the stage of proposal making and budgeting of projects, instead of being an afterthought once programmes have been rolled out. At the same time, a few discussants suggested that the advocates of C4D should make the field very competitive and prepared to meet the challenges offered by other disciplines by better funding and marketing of C4D.
Discussants suggested that interactions with academics should focus on developing C4D training modules, organising conferences, and forging research partnerships, mentorships, and field exposures to familiarise themselves with on-the-ground realities. The idea of developing and introducing C4D training modules was welcomed by most of the discussants from the developing countries. Discussants from the developed countries shared that their universities were offering courses in C4D and allied domains, which could be adapted suitably to offer in the online mode as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). However, C4D practitioners amongst the discussants did not agree to the MOOC format because, in their view, C4D training needed face-to-face interaction and hands-on experience. Discussants from Africa, Asia, and South-East Asia were also concerned about the availability of internet connectivity, the prevalence of employers' unfavourable attitudes towards online courses, the issues of accreditation and certification, recognition of C4D as a professional course, and financial viability of MOOC courses for the students and universities. Another apprehension voiced was that C4D courses often end up as health communication courses or some other discipline. This is not in the larger interest of the C4D domain. The group concluded that academically-based C4D training needs strengthening globally. Lack of substantial awareness about existing C4D courses amongst the discussants suggested that a database of C4D courses and universities should be prepared by region and shared widely.
The idea of a C4D course adopted by a university and offered within a residency block found favour with nearly all the discussants from the developing countries. As in these countries, education is an expensive investment that needs to be made on firm credentials of the institution offering a C4D course. This implies that the degree should be recognised by national education boards and international bodies for employment. A few discussants pointed out the need to motivate UN organisations like UNICEF to take the lead and introduce C4D training courses. It was evident that discussants were not aware of the C4D/CSBC training modules launched by UNICEF/India in 2013 or the more recent paid online course in SBCC. Experience indicates that any course is likely to face challenges if it is not backed by a university, recognised by the government, endorsed by an accreditation body, and/or offered in an online mode where a majority of the population is not used to studying online courses.
From the discussions on the CI network, it emerged that C4D needed not only courses and training, but also research and advocacy to earn its rightful place as a profession with a clear job market and professional trajectory. The academics amongst the discussants offered to form a group focused on advancing C4D in academic institutions by analysing relevant issues and taking collective action to resolve those issues and challenges. By the end of May 2017, a group of 54 C4D academicians and practitioners volunteered to carry forward the discussion. As a result, a new group entitled Advancing C4D in Academic Institutions was formed on The CI Network.
Colle and Khanna conclude by suggesting, for example, that we need to push further to link university studies in communication to the real-life laboratories of such local institutions as CLCs. "Whether C4D appears in curricula as part of a traditional course in the social sciences, in computer science or agriculture, or as a stand-alone course, C4D needs to be part of many universities' support of these and others in the SDGs."
Email from Royal D. Colle to The Communication Initiative on July 17 2017. Image credit: Community Systems Foundation