Friday, 15 May 2009

Cross Cultural Journalism Teaching: Case Study of an Indian University

Reproduced here is a paper submitted by Dr Ujjwala Barve,
Reader and Head, Communication and Journalism, Universiy of Pune, Pune.

Mailing address: Department of Communication and Journalism
Ranade Institute Bldg. F.C. Road
Pune 411004 India

Phone and Fax nos.: (0) 91-20-25654069, 25673188, (R) 91-20-25209049
(Cell) 9881464677

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The paper is about cross-cultural difficulties arising in journalism teaching because of vast cultural differences among students of a post-graduate journalism class.

The data is based on experience and observations in Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune, India as well as on interviews with colleagues and students.

It explains problems, details measures taken by teachers and suggests ways to tackle with the cross-cultural dilemma.


Cross Cultural Journalism Teaching: Case Study of an Indian University


India is a land of diversities. All types of pluralities- linguistic, religious, caste-based, economic, regional- exist here. These pluralities are clearly visible in any public-funded university in the country. Such universities are expected to impart higher education to all deserving students and that too whenever possible both in English and the language of the respective state/province. That poses several challenges to teachers, especially teachers of journalism courses.

This paper tries to throw light on the challenges and difficulties faced in the cross-cultural ambience in a journalism department in most of the public-funded universities in India. Prof. Sadhu has observed that several problems and challenges are presented to journalism teachers in Universities in the states of Maharahstra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala etc. where journalism training is offered both in English and a regional language. (Sadhu, 2007) This paper discusses these issues in the context of Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune, which represents the journalism departments in public-funded universities in the country.

A point to be noted here is that in India each state is as large as a European country and their population is also much more than those countries. Hence the number of speakers of each regional/state language is also very high.

University of Pune, in the western state of Maharashtra (of which Mumbai is the capital) is one of the premier universities in the country. It was established in 1949 to impart quality higher education and that too in the regional language- Marathi. (Marathi is the official language of the state of Maharashtra.) The mission statement of University of Pune states that imparting higher education to all sections of the society in all disciplines in Marathi will be the prime objective of this university. (Dikshit, 1999)

In keeping with the goal and in tune with the predominantly Maharshtrian culture that Pune has until recently represented (unlike Mumbai which has always been cosmopolitan) University of Pune developed various courses. Importance of English was however never undermined in the process. Courses in those subjects that can be better taught and learnt in English (e.g. Physical and life Sciences, mathematics, IT etc.) were always offered in English, but along with that those subjects in which individual experiences and expression is more important (e.g. Social Sciences, Language, Literature) students were encouraged to write assignments and examinations in Marathi. Hence most academic departments under the faculties of Arts (effectively languages, and not to be confused with fine and performing arts); and Mental, Moral and Social Sciences came to function as ‘bi-lingual’ departments (where classroom teaching was conducted in English and students had the option to choose the language of answers from English and Marathi)

Among various Universities in Maharashtra, UoP was and probably is the best model of bi-lingual education in these subjects. In other universities (like Dr. B. A. Marathwada University in Aurangabad, Shivaji University in Kolhapur etc.) Marathi is the primary language of teaching, whereas in Mumbai University English is the primary language of teaching. In UoP however both English and Marathi languages are given equal importance.

It can be claimed that the bi-lingual teaching culture is more evident in Department of Communication and Journalism (DoCJ), University of Pune and that it gives rise to a very peculiar situation because of the nature of the subject matter and also because of the vast cultural differences among the students who enroll for the course. Hence the title of the present paper ‘Cross Cultural Journalism Teaching: A Case Study of an Indian University’.

Brief History of Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune

Like in so many other fields, the city of Pune was also on the forefront of journalism during and after the freedom struggle. (India became independent from British rule in 1947). Many of the city’s newspapers are over seventy five years old and the oldest surviving newspaper is 125 years old. The city had a couple of English newspaper also. (Copies of major English newspapers like The Times of India and Indian Express were transported from Mumbai until recently. Now they have Pune editions.).

The prevailing beliefs half a century ago were ‘a journalist has to be born and can not be trained’ and ‘formal classroom training in journalism is of little use, best training is on-job training’. (Barve, 1996, p. 28) Therefore it took almost 25 years from the foundation of UoP to start a journalism department in it.

The seeds of the department were sown with an endowment made to the University for a scholarship in Marathi Journalism. With that endowment Department of Journalism was established in 1964 to start a two year part-time certificate course in Journalism. Those with degrees in languages (English or Marathi as the major subject for Bachelor’s course) generally tended to opt for a course in journalism, because it was believed that a flair for writing was the most essential skill required to be a journalist. Some of those who were already working as journalists in local newspapers and magazines also joined the course to get a deeper insight in the field of journalism.

Gradually the course was upgraded to a full-time post-graduate diploma and then a Bachelor’s course. The Bachelor’s degree course was a post-graduate course, meaning those who already had a degree could seek admission to the course. (Undergraduate degree programme in journalism has not yet been started in UoP.) The Bachelor’s programme (earlier called BJ- Bachelor of Journalism and later renamed BCJ- Bachelor of Communication and Journalism. Name of the department was also changed to the present ‘Department of Communication and Journalism’- DoCJ in 1983) was a one year full-time academic programme. (

A new one year part-time Diploma course was also started in the meantime in collaboration with Pune Union of Working Journalists. The cross-cultural phenomenon mentioned earlier, however, is evident more in the full-time course than in the Diploma course, because the Diploma course is conducted only in one language i.e. Marathi. Moreover being a part-time course it does not attract many out of town/state students. (In 2003 a separate Diploma course with only English as medium of instruction was launched).

The full-time course however, offers more practical experience and hence better job opportunities. After running only the one-year Bachelor’s course for around 20 years DoCJ started a Master’s programme in Communication and Journalism. (Nomenclature of the degree: MCJ- Master of Communication and Journalism.) It was an optional course, i.e. not all students entering the BCJ, went on to complete their MCJ. It was only in year 2001 that the post-graduate programme was made a full-time two-year, four semester programme under credit system. The same time it was also renamed as M.A. in Mass Communication and Journalism.

All the full-time courses, whether BCJ, MCJ or M.A., have attracted students from all over the state and the country. DoCJ, in its prospectus categorically mentions that though the primary medium of academic instruction is English students can exercise the choice to work in Marathi. (As explained earlier, only the option of Marathi, the official state language, is given to students. They do not have the choice to write examination in any other languages; not even Hindi, the national language.)

Composition of the post-graduate class

Around 300 students compete for the 30 seats available in the course. As per government rules 15 of the 30 seats are reserved for various socially disadvantages communities. Candidates are selected on the basis of their performance in the Entrance /Aptitude Test. It is designed to test both written and oral communication skills of the candidates. Candidate’s general awareness; and writing and analytical skills are tested in a written test of 100 marks. Oral communication skills, personality, career goals etc. is judged in the Personal Interview.

As mentioned earlier, the prospectus mentions that students, if they so wish, may write the course examination in Marathi. It also mentions that candidates seeking admission to the course must have working knowledge of English and must be able to understand English very well. Therefore the Question Paper, which is common to all candidates, is in English only. The personal interview however is conducted in a language that the candidate prefers to converse in. It has been observed over the years that around 50% candidates answer the questions, both written and oral in English and 50% answer in Marathi. (Thakur, 2007)

The reasons behind offering the choice of language lies in the nature of the media industry in India. In India the mainstream media function primarily in three languages: Hindi, English and the regional language of the state concerned.

Every state has a very strong regional press in respective regional languages; regional TV channels providing news from the region also function in the same language (as in case of Maharashtra: Marathi). Local commercial radio stations so far running only in Mumbai and Pune use English as the main language. If they start operating from smaller towns, they may use Marathi as the primary language.

Newspapers that have a nationwide presence, like The Times of India, The Hindu etc. are English newspapers. TV channels that have a nationwide viewership are either Hindi or English. All India Radio, the public service broadcaster that still has monopoly over news and current affairs programmes, runs its national bulletins and current affairs programmes in Hindi and English; and regional bulletins and current affairs programmes in Marathi.

The industry expects media training institutes to train students who can function very well in the language that the newspaper/TV channel/radio station works in. It is a well accepted principle that a journalist must have absolute command over and proficiency in the language in which the media product appears. That is where formal journalism training differs from training in other subjects like Sociology, Psychology and Philosophy etc. where a student’s understanding of basic concepts and ideas related to the subject is more important than her linguistic expression. No doubt better expression makes a better impression, but even if a student has a less than satisfactory writing style that is not considered as a reflection on the student’s ability to function as a sociologist/ psychologist/ philosopher.

Whereas in journalism training a student not only has to understand and grasp the basic principles of reporting, editing etc. but she has to be able to express it in the proper journalistic style. A journalism course is expected to and can cultivate the journalistic writing style. But experience has shown that a good journalistic communication (written or oral) style can be inculcated in a student only if she possesses some basic writing skills when she starts the course. It is not possible in the limited time of one/two years to start teaching from the very basic concepts of good writing.

That is why the Entrance Examination tests the candidates’ basic writing skills. Though English is the official language in India not everyone can speak or write it well to become a journalist working in that language. Similarly having Marathi as one’s mother tongue does not guarantee adequate Marathi expression. Very few people in India from non-Hindi speaking areas can claim to be as fluent in Hindi, the national language, as in English or the language of the region to which they belong. Most Hindi language journalists are those who are from one of the Hindi states or whose mother tongue is Hindi.

Another point that needs a mention here is about the school and college education system in India. In India English language has gained supreme importance among the educated class. Therefore in cities and towns, many children from well-to-do families are sent to private schools that impart education only in English right from the Kinder Garten (pre-school) level. Such children (not all but a majority of them) many a times lose contact with their mother tongue apart from day-to-day conversational language. They can neither read nor write higher forms of linguistic expression like newspapers/magazines/literature etc. Candidates from such ‘English medium background’ opting for journalism courses, aspire to become English-language journalists.

Often times, families staying in a state other than their native state (the language of which is their mother tongue) are forced to send their children to an English-medium school, because that’s the only alternative to the schools giving education in the respective state’s language. (In India people would rather have education in English, which is the common national language at functional level than Hindi, the official national language). Such candidates often have a pan-Indian outlook. They find it easier to relate to national and international issues than local or regional.

Those who study in a Marathi medium school, on the other hand, are more confident about their Marathi language expression. Though the present social situation demands that every one seeking higher education must understand simple written and oral English and be able to converse in English, many of them still find English language a major hurdle in their career paths. Such candidates, with limited or marginal knowledge of English however can make very good local/regional level journalists and can not be denied the opportunity to serve the media industry of the local language.

There is not only linguistic divide in the class. There are also vast cultural differences among the various groups. The groups dress differently, they follow different types of music, they watch different types of films, read different types of literature, they eat different type of food. In short they have totally different ways of life. The native or original name of the country is ‘Bharat’ and India is its Anglicized version. Many a times it is said that in one single country India there exist two culturally diverse nations: Bharat and India. Bharat is that part of the nation that is economically backward, deeply rooted in traditional culture and India is the westernized, more progressive segment. In DoCJ also representatives of both Bharat and India exist.

Such is the situation that presents itself at the time of selection of 30 candidates out of the 300 odd applying to the post-graduate course in Mass Communication and Journalism in University of Pune. Therefore the Question Paper for the Written Examination allows candidates to answer questions in Marathi. The section of the Question Paper designed to test the candidates’ language skills however has a separate Marathi version. Because it is considered unfair to ask students, not-so-proficient in English, to complete English proverbs or use idioms or give English synonyms and antonyms. It is strongly believed in the department that the students who are admitted to the course must have a flair for (journalistic) writing and must have an analytical mind.

At the end of the laborious selection procedure the class of 30 that is composed can be called mini-India. Half of them are Maharashtrians and wish to work in Marathi. They are born and brought up in Maharashtra and have a firm footing in Maharashtra’s culture. On the other hand a high percentage of the students are non-Maharashtrians, who want to or have to try working in English. Such non-Maharashtrian students have very little knowledge of the geography, history, politics, culture and literature of Maharashtra. (Though the prospectus indicates that preliminary knowledge of local language and local affairs is considered an added advantage. But it is easier said than done.)

The ‘English’ lot (as it has been referred to traditionally) in DoCJ, is mostly from economically middle and upper class urban, educated families. Some of them have their own laptops with Internet connectivity. The ‘Marathi’ group has mixed financial and educational background. Some of them are from middle class educated families from small towns or cities. These kids have a TV set (sometimes with cable connection) at home, may have access to computer education etc. But a significant number is from economically disadvantaged, semiliterate or illiterate farmer/farm laborer/ worker families living in very small towns or villages. They get to watch TV news at the mercy of the village-head, and have to read a local newspaper or a day or two old state-level newspaper when it reaches their remote village. Some of them are the first ever graduates in their families or village.

There is however no difference in the intelligence or IQs of the students from diverse backgrounds. All those selected for the course are bright and are on the same level intellectually. (It must also be mentioned here, that sometimes, students with much lesser intellectual capacity and journalistic capabilities also become a part of the class for several reasons.) All these students study together in one single class after paying the same fees: Rs. 5000/- per year (USD 100).

Problems in conduct of the course
The department does not divide the class on the basis of languages. There are two reasons behind it: one- financially it is not viable and practical to run two separate classes, two- even those who have made up their minds to work in Marathi, must be able to understand English and develop their language skills.

The class room lectures, conducted primarily in English, help these students to gradually become more comfortable with English, which goes a long way in their careers. However, the teachers, though they fully understand and agree with the motive, find it most challenging to make their classes interesting, engaging and useful for all types of students. If personal bonding and camaraderie develops among students by the end of the first term it helps bridge the gap between the two linguistic groups and teachers can take advantage of it to an extent.

Apart from the 30 Indian students, DoCJ also admits foreign students (mostly Iranian, Thai, Bangla Dehis etc.) and children of Non-Resident-Indians or expatriates. That makes the class even more colorful. (It is true that no class in any subject in any university in any country is completely homogeneous. But somewhere there may exist only economic divide, somewhere there may exist only urban-rural divide or cultural divide. But in the class being discussed in this paper, all types of differences present themselves. Moreover, as explained earlier, effectiveness of training depends on students’ previous experiences, exposure and linguistic expression).

First of all the teachers have to have equal command over both English and Marathi. And only knowledge of Marathi as a language does not suffice. The teachers have to be as well informed about Marathi culture, local events, and Marathi media as about English media, international events and modern Indian/cosmopolitan/western culture. They also have to know Marathi terminology and jargon. In Marathi (and other Indian languages), words were specially coined for various fields in the last 50 years. The Marathi media uses these words. A lay native Marathi speaker often does not know all these words, but a journalist must know it. In the course of classroom discussions, examples have to be cited from both English and Marathi newsapapers, radio programmes and TV channels of all types because Journalism teaching without current real life examples has little meaning.

The first semester of the course proves to be the most crucial for the teachers. As Prof. Kiran Thakur who teaches News Reporting and Writing explains, many background classes have to be conducted before the class comes to more or less the same level. Making those who have never been to a village understand villagers’ problems; and giving an insight to those who have come to a city for the first time into a typically urban phenomena like BPOs or issues related to public transport, sewage system, immigration etc. is, if not daunting, a challenging task. (Thakur, 2007). He says that English is necessary to understand national, international issues, to translate news agency copies and knowledge of Marathi is necessary to understand local history, politics, culture; to cover local events, to interview local people as part of practical training.

In view of the situation, proficiency in both English and Marathi, should be set as a necessary condition while recruiting permanent faculty, but unfortunately that is not the case. DoCJ has had teachers who knew only one of the two languages. That adds to the existing burden. For them classes have to be divided in two separate language groups. These two groups are taught by two different teachers. Where classes are thus divided conducting examinations poses a problem because the two sub-classes may not necessarily be conducted in identical manner.

This division is not appreciated by students also. As a ‘Marathi’ past student, puts it “the separate lectures further widen the gap between the two language groups. In a department like ours all lectures should be common but they must be conducted by bi-lingual teachers, who will primarily speak in English, but can clarify certain aspects in Marathi as well, if need be.” (Gadekar, 2007)

Sometimes a teacher who is bilingual may deliberately divide the class in English and Marathi groups, especially when the topic deals with writing skills. Given the vast difference in the nature of the two languages, different tips have to be given and that too in the respective languages. But in this case classes of the two groups can run parallel to each other and almost identical inputs can be given to the two classes, because the teacher is the same.

Ideally a teacher should be able to read and assess her own students’ work. But a non-Marathi-knowing teacher conducts classroom lectures only in English and she has to outsource those assignments that are written in Marathi. This practice deprives the teacher of the knowledge of her students’ performance and the students are deprived of the teachers’ guidance.

A journalism course also depends a lot on visiting and guest faculty. DoCJ often faces a great dilemma in this regard also. There are some very good English speakers who are not able to speak Marathi and there are some very good Marathi speakers who are not comfortable delivering a lecture in English. It’s only fair to ‘Marathi’ students that such famous Marathi speakers also be invited. In turn such events mean additional burden on teachers. Non-Maharashtrian students are normally not inclined towards attending Marathi lectures because they can not understand Marathi, so the teachers have to translate the gist of the speech so as not to deprive the students of the knowledge imparted by the speaker. When non-Marathi speaking speakers are invited, Marathi students’ extent of interaction with the speaker is minimal because they can not converse freely in English.

As mentioned earlier, in India English has gained such importance that not being able to speak the language, especially when one is a post-graduate journalism student, gives one an extreme inferiority complex. Such students who shy away from speaking in English for the fear of making silly mistakes are more often than not extremely intelligent, but the class is deprived of their comments because of this fear. Therefore it is a huge task before the teachers to encourage them to speak in English or act as interpreters.

One of the biggest problems that teachers in DoCJ and Marathi students face is that quality Marathi books on journalism are not available. Not even 10% books in the library are Marathi books. Those that are available are not of the high standards of English books. The knowledge-gap between English and Marathi students thus further widens. (Marathi students are encouraged to read English books also, but again it is easier said than done. One definitely is inclined to read books in the language that one understands better and wishes to work in).

To overcome the problem of quality text books, especially in subjects like Media Research, Communication Theories, Online Journalism etc. a couple of teachers tried to get translation rights from the publishers of English books, but the publishers declined the request. As Prof. Thakur has experienced, it is not easy to write original quality books or get them written. Given the comparatively small size of Marathi media field, it is difficult to identify and persuade those journalists who can write a good book with an academic orientation. (Thakur, 2007).

Many western books are really good but they naturally deal mostly with western media practices. As it is, they have to be supplemented with Indian examples which the teachers do provide during class room lectures. But while discussing the theoretical principles the teachers have to cite examples both from the English and Marathi media, the nature of which differs significantly.

Production of students’ experimental newspaper proves to be another problem area. Word processing in English is many times easier than in Marathi (and other Indian languages. Indian language software does not have spellchecking or grammar checking facility). Since all computers necessarily have English word processing facility, everyone is more or less familiar with it and those students willing to work in English can right away start typing their own stories and articles on the computer. Marathi students however have to start from scratch, firstly because some of them may not have had an opportunity to use a computer before or those who had an opportunity to use a computer may not have used Marathi software before; secondly because there is no uniformity in Marathi word-processing software, so even those who have learnt it before have to learn the software that DoCJ has.

While Marathi students are still learning the basics of computer usage, English students start producing their newspapers. Thus they gain more practical experience than their Marathi counterparts. Is it then possible to start production of the newspaper only after every student becomes equipped enough to work on the newspaper? The answer is no. The reason is: why make those who are already good at computers lose their precious time?

Is it then possible to admit only those who have enough knowledge of computers including Mararthi word processing? The answer is no again. A public-funded university can not screen students on the basis of skills that can be acquired through opportunities that depend largely on one’s social/financial status and one’s area of residence. As mentioned earlier extremely intelligent students from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds join DoCJ, come across many things (computer, Internet, digital cameras etc.) for the first time in their life. (Many such students take a great advantage of the new experiences and opportunities that they get in DoCJ.)

Is it possible to offer ‘bridge courses’ to such students before the actual teaching starts? So far, that has not been possible. There is a very small interval between selection to the course and its commencement. A public-funded university and its departments always face revenue-crunch. They can neither ask for additional fees for bridge courses nor can they manage to arrange them from their own resources. So ‘playing by the ear’ remains their eternal policy.

Conclusion and suggestions

Journalism departments of public-funded universities in India, like DoCJ, University of Pune; are presented with extremely diverse group of students. The major difference is in the linguistic background of students. Those willing to work in the English media and/or not knowing Marathi have to be trained in English and those who are better in Marathi and would like to work for Marathi media have to be trained in such a way that they have enough skills to enter the Marathi media at the end of the course.

There are also other vast differences in the students’ profile. Urban-rural, financial and social, cultural divides can be seen in the class. They lead to marked differences in students’ confidence and extent of interaction.

These two language groups can not be divided into two separate classes for various reasons. Therefore a teacher has to delicately balance equal valuable inputs to students belonging to different backgrounds.

Teachers however look upon the situation more as a challenge than a hurdle because they feel that the interaction with a diverse group of students keeps them on their toes and gives them an opportunity to see different worlds through the eyes of their students.

If journalism teaching has to become equally meaningful for all types of students, teachers in such journalism departments should be bi-lingual with equal command over both English and the regional language; they should have a very wide exposure to various cultures and moreover must be equally familiar with both English and regional language media.

Paucity of quality text books or academic books in the regional languages is the major problem before the departments. Though the teachers make an effort to overcome the problem it should be supported by book publishing industry.

In India, the education system, both at secondary and higher education levels, does not leave much scope to students for their own learning. The curricula are always very rigid and students are taught to study only through text books. Therefore students who join university find it hard when they are asked to search for material on their own or to present their own views on various issue. Therefore the education system in India also needs to undergo a major change if students have to be trained to gain knowledge supplementary to classroom teaching through their own effort. If that happens, students and teachers can together prepare a large data base of examples that need to be given during the course of discussion.


Personal Interviews:

Gadekar Rahul. (former students and now Teaching associate, DoCJ) Jan. 3, 2007
Thakur, Kiran, (former Head, DoCJ) Jan. 4, 2007.
Sadhu, Arun, (former Head, DoCJ) Jan. 4, 2007

Books etc.

Barve, Ujjwala, 1996. ‘Journalism Courses in Pune: A Comparative Study. Diss. Pune: University of Pune.

Dikshit Raja, 1999. ‘Pune Vidyapeethacha Itihas’ (History of University of Pune). Pune: University of Pune.

Malhan, P. N., 1988. Journalism Training- Gaps and Drawbacks. ‘Vidura’. July-August, 1988. New Delhi: Press Institute of India.

Rao, V. Appa (Ed.), 1981. Report on the Status of Journalism and Communication Education Education in India. New Delhi: University Grants Commission.

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