An interesting dilemma has emerged at the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ) this week as the results from last semester’s exams were posted. The 2009/2010 Assessment Policy at MIJ stipulates that certificate students are given the option to take up to 18 courses but they are required to pass at least 14 of them to receive their degrees giving them the margin to fail up to four courses. However, since MIJ was met with some timetable challenges this year, only 15 courses were offered meaning that students could only fail one of their courses. Outraged students went on protest demanding that the policy of failing four courses should still be applicable.
Last Tuesday the corridors of MIJ were lined with students. Some sitting, some standing, some clapping or stomping, but they were all shouting about something or other. When some of the students spotted Heather and I peering out from our office they pointed and yelled “yes! Human rights!” As pleased as I was that jhr’s presence on campus was spreading, I needed clarification about what was going on.
When I asked the students to explain what it was that they were protesting they all started yelling – some in English, others in Chichewa, but it was all completely indecipherable. I asked them to speak one at a time but they weren’t hearing it (literally, they couldn’t hear me over the shouting).
The students claim that when they received their grades from last semester’s exams earlier this week, they were notified that they could only fail one of their classes in order to receive their degrees. The problem is that when the students started their Certificate program last semester they claim they were told they could fail up to four courses and still receive their degrees. Several students were also disgruntled that this policy would mean that they would have to pay by Friday to rewrite any exams that they failed last semester. “Where are we supposed to get K4,000 (approx $30 CAD) to write the supplementary exam?” one student lamented.
“We used to be able to fail up to six courses of 12” one student grumbled bitterly. “That was the 2006 curriculum,” Dalitson Nkunika, the Deputy Executive Director at MIJ explains. In 2008 the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) funded a curriculum review at MIJ. The review focused on a variety of goals for development including standardizing courses and exams at all MIJ campuses (in Blantyre, Mzuzu and Lilongwe), the inclusion of courses dealing with emerging issues such as HIV/AIDS, human rights and economic reporting, and meeting accreditation requirements.
Part of the curriculum development resulted in a standardized policy that required Certificate students to pass a minimum of 14 courses out of the possible 18 courses they could attend. Nkunika maintains that the students were aware of the curriculum changes not only before they wrote their exams last semester but before their courses began and the Assessment Policy for the 2009/2010 school year clearly notes that certificate students “must complete and pass [...] 14 courses.”
The problem remains, however, that in January 2010 only 15 courses were offered due to timetable constrictions, “the opportunity wasn’t there because there was nowhere to fit [the other courses] on the timetable,” says Nkunika. Despite this hiccup, Nkunika maintains that there needs to be consistency between the campuses on the minimum number of degree requirements. Before the curriculum review in 2006 students only had to take “seven or eight courses at the other campuses [in Mzuzu and Lilongwe] while students took 14 courses here to get the same degree.”
This determination for consistency was evident as a few representatives from the Student Union sat down with the members of the school board which was unwavering in their current curriculum requirements. The excitements over degree requirements have since died down but I’m hopeful that the students will remain this fiery in their professional journalism endeavours.