La Wun Shwe Wut Ye, Myanmar Institute of Theology

Building a Journalism Program, Step by Step

La Wun, in yellow, with MIT journalism students.

“There is a huge demand in my country for journalists,” La Wun Shwe Wut Ye, a lecturer in the English department at Myanmar Institute of Theology (MIT), has discovered, and in 2010, MIT wanted to develop a journalism course to introduce students to the field. The challenge was to find the human resources needed to train faculty and build the curriculum. La Wun, like others in the English department, had skills to offer – “I can teach students to write and assess their writing”  –  but she lacked the hands-on experience of writing news stories on short deadlines. Local journalists were eager to help with short-term training, but MIT faculty realized they also needed resource persons familiar with full-scale academic programs. “Students need to gradually build up skills and have their progress checked,” La Wun explained, “and this can’t be done in a workshop.”

In 2014, MIT turned to the United Board for grant support and access to expertise. “For a country where many things are not available,” La Wun said, “it is a great thing to have a network.” Through the introduction of the United Board, MIT began incorporating Asian expertise from Ateneo de Manila University, University of St. La Salle, and Hong Kong Baptist University. Faculty from these institutions visited the MIT campus to lecture and outline the primary content for elective courses in Principles of Journalism and News Reporting and Writing, and MIT faculty began matching concepts to examples from Myanmar news sources. MIT continues to expand its network, with both local and international experts, and plans to send a faculty member abroad for a master’s degree in journalism.

La Wun expresses appreciation to visiting lecturer Allen del Carmen.

The journalism initiative is thriving. MIT now offers four journalism electives: in addition to Principles of Journalism and News Reporting and Writing, students can take courses in Ethical and Responsible Journalism and Press, Politics, and Society. Student interest is strong. “Students often see electives as a chance for an easy course, so we tell them these courses will be challenging,” La Wun said. Despite the rigorous classroom content and an internship requirement, students are eager to enroll and learn how to gather information, analyze it, and effectively communicate it to the community. Five students have already received job offers from their internship hosts.

“Knowledge is at the core of journalism,” La Wun believes, and the inquisitive nature of journalism helps students develop critical thinking skills. These aspects of journalism justify its inclusion in the higher education curriculum, and inspire MIT leaders and faculty to continue the process, step by step, of translating their vision for a journalism major, embedded in the Liberal Arts Program, into a reality.

Photos courtesy of Allen del Carmen.