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CFSC Pioneer: Honouring Nora Quebral

Linje Manyozo, Ph.D. candidate at Australia's La Trobe University, highlights the leadership role of CFSC pioneer Nora Quebral at the University of Philippines-Los Baņos. This story is excerpted from a longer piece that will be published in the Asian Journal of Communication soon.

Where and how did development communication practice, research and discipline evolve? Who were the pioneers? Attempting to answer these questions, this article outlines how the College of Development Communication at the University of Philippines, in Los Baņos, then a department under the leadership of Nora C. Quebral, pioneered ways to teach this field in the early 1970s.

Although Quebral's pioneering definition of development communication was published in the Clearing House of Development Communication in the 1970s, Everett Rogers was termed the "father of development communication."

With due respect to Rogers, Wilbur Schramm and Daniel Lerner for their work, historical evidence suggests that different development communication evolved at different times the world over, but Los Baņos brand has shaped current and global discourse on development communication.

The various definitions of development communication have confused many communication scholars, mainly because they are viewing the field through the prism of Western development scholarship.

Despite the variations in definitions, development communication is a term for method-driven and theory-based praxes that use participatory communication tools to strengthen community decision-making processes and structures. The aim: improve livelihoods and promote social justice.

So, beyond the confines of Euro-centralism, development communication has evolved in a variety of times and places, namely Bretton Woods, Latin American, Los Baņos, African, Indian and the participatory development communication schools.

Bretton Woods: Testing New Approaches

The Bretton Woods school emerged after the Second World War and can be located within the establishment of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in 1944, after which the school fostered production and planting of development in indigenous societies. Notable among the school's experiments in the Third World were radio listening clubs and educational radio projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The school has reviewed its approaches over the years and has been the most dynamic in testing and adopting new approaches and methodologies.

Among the school's supporting institutions are the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Rockefeller Foundation, U.K. Department for International Development and the Ford Foundation, among others.

Latin American School: Promoting Participatory Broadcasts

The second school, the Latin American School, emerged in the 1940s and traces its origins to Colombia's Radio Sutatenza and Bolivia's Radios Mineras, both of which pioneered the use of participatory and educational rural radio approaches in empowering marginalised campesinos, helping them to lead decent and healthy lives.

These community-based radio stations not only provided systematically designed, radio-based rural development education, but also provided a blueprint for participatory broadcasting for many organisations and scholars worldwide.

African School: Taking Radio and Theatre to the People

The African school of development communication emerged in two different forms: In the Anglophone African School, development communication emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a result of the continent's post-colonial and communist movements. Radio and theatre were used in community education, adult literacy, health and agricultural education. In terms of theatre, African universities swiftly developed the concept "taking theatre to the people" in rural development. On the other hand, in Francophone Africa, through sponsorship of Bretton Woods-school institutions, radio developed as an approach and tool in rural development.

Indian School: Focusing on Indigenous Languages

The fourth school, the Indian School, traces its origins from the 1940s, when village communities emerged in Bhiwandi to listen to the rural broadcasts in the indigenous Marathi, Gujarati and Kannada languages. Beginning in the 1960s, with sponsorship from, again, Bretton Woods-school institutions, India's universities and other educational institutions were central in the earliest organised experiments. Notable among the academic centres were the University of Poona, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi University, the Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society and the University of Kerala.

Participatory Development: Facilitating Participatory Development

The fifth school, the Participatory Development Communication School, involves collaboration between First World and Third World development communication organisations. Guy Bessette observes that participatory development communication facilitates community involvement in local development. Drawing from Freirean critical pedagogy, which places the learner and his environment at the centre of education, modern development communication has diverse methodological and theoretical trajectories. But, still, it focuses on participatory production and indigenous knowledge in local development.

The Philippines School: Emerging From Agricultural Roots

The sixth school emerged in the Philippines in the 1970s. Nora Quebral was well aware that other development communication experiments were going on the world over, and thus she talked about "development communication, Los Baņos style." Nurtured in the University of the Philippines Los Baņos College of Development Communication, the Los Baņos School evolved from the practices of what began as the Office of Extension and Publications of then University of the Philippines College of Agriculture in 1954, under which some staff members began to practice and study how communication could be used to address problems of agricultural and rural development.

Quebral herself acknowledges the influence of Cornell University and a "visiting extension professor from Tennessee," which resulted in the creation of the Extension and Publications Office. In 1960, the first development communication courses were introduced in the agriculture curriculum and in1962, the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture elevated the Extension and Publications Office into a Department of Information and Communication (DAIC). In 1968, DAIC was renamed the Department of Agricultural Communication. In 1974, DAIC changed its name to Department of Development Communication. Between 1987 and 1998, the department was elevated into an institute and then later a college.

The school's earliest scholars pioneering method-driven and theory-based extension efforts in using communication to promote sustainable development were mostly Western-trained agricultural doctorates. This group, comprising Quebral herself, Juan F. Jamias, and Ely D. Gomez and later, Felix Librero and then Crispin C. Maslog, among others, were the first to use the term "development communication" to refer to an organised and systematic art of "human communication applied to speedy transformation of a country and a mass of its people from poverty to a dynamic state of economic growth" to achieve "greater social equality." Alongside this definition of development communication was an understanding that it "cannot really change people," but can only "help them change themselves" at their "own enlightened pace."

Working in parallel with the Los Baņos School were Philippine Press Institute, Press Foundation for Asia, the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication, Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Centre, United Nations Development Programme's Development Communication Support Service, the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction, the Universities of Singapore and Malaysia and the Manila-based Communication Foundation for Asia.

Having experimented with using strategically designed communication tools in agriculture extension, Quebral, then chairman of the Department of Development Communication, proposed with her faculty a four-year bachelor's of science degree in development communication. In March 1974, the idea received approval. Courses began to be offered in the 1974-75 school year. Offering this programme at this time made U-P Los Baņos the pioneering academic institution in the world offering a full-fledged development communication university degree.

The curriculum itself was broad-based and multidisciplinary, so as to enable students to "acquire a theoretical base in the sciences and applied arts that underlie the study of human communication." It also fostered "practical skills in interpersonal and mass communication as well as [helped students] gain a basic grasp of the issues and problems of development and then apply these in the solution of problems in a developing society."

The school considered its principal clients the "mass of people with a low rate of literacy and income" and the accompanying "socio-economic attributes." It is unlikely that Paulo Freire's notions of critical pedagogy influenced the pioneering Los Baņos experiments until the mid-1970s and 1980s: His Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) was published in Portuguese in the late1960s. The English version would not be available for much of the world until the mid 1970s and not until the late 1970s and early 80s for Southeast Asia.

The school's three cornerstones were agriculture, rural development journalism and educational broadcasting. And as observed by Quebral and Gomez in the 1970s, the school's priorities were "food production, family planning, health and nutrition, agrarian reform, national unity, relevant education, the wise use of the environment, more rational attitudes and values." Theirs was an approach that would "provide a forum where issues affecting national or community life may be aired" while also teaching "those ideas, skills and attitudes that people need to achieve a better life."

The Los Baņos school preferred rural over urban development, since the majority of peoples in the Third World live in rural areas, as justified by Quebral and Gomez in a 1976 brief primer on development communication. Years later Quebral would acknowledge that development communication methods could be used to solve development challenges of more industrialised countries, saying the goal was "consciously diminishing poverty, unemployment and inequality," goals that have not changed a bit even in modern-day practice.

Important among the Los Baņos communication tools was the university-based Radio DZLB community radio, which was set up to serve a "specialised and an identified audience," providing them relevant programmes that "concern and help" them deal with their problems and to participate in making decisions.

In 1962, Radio DZLB was established to serve as an experimental agricultural extension tool to help "conducting rural broadcasting research relating to the effective dissemination of agricultural information." It went on air in 1964, and by the 1970s, the station had become a community broadcaster, with communities requesting specific programmes. Meanwhile, the school was already conducting radio schools and instructional broadcasts.

As a rural development project, Radio DZLB, also known as the Voice of the Village, "became a pinnacle of local development collaboration, coordination and cooperation with government agencies and other institutions, conducting localized and personalised broadcast programming, encouraging audience involvement, as well as conducting evaluations and research." Some of the important aspects of Radio DZLB were radio forums and the school on the air, concepts borrowed from United States and Canada.

Today, the Los Baņos School has been joined in the arena by many schools and institutions in Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia in fostering people-centred development communications, though the school continues to "stand out as a pioneer in development communication teaching and the most productive in development communication education" in the world. Most of Bretton Wood organizations, such as the International Development Research Centre, have worked with or are linked to the School.

The school is now a full college. Its curricula offer training in development broadcasting, educational communication, science communication and development journalism. Unlike every other training institution in the world, the school offers a bachelor's of science, a master's of science, and a doctorate of philosophy degrees in development communication.

Quebral modestly notes that the school "does not own the intellectual property rights to development communication as a field of study or teaching." This unselfishness is manifest in the willingness of the old guard of Los Baņos to help other training institutions throughout the region to establish their own development communication programmes.

Quebral is not worried about socio-economic changes that would change the nature of development communication thinking. She is, however, very worried about global imperialism and how it is already affecting the poorest of the poor. She recalls "listening to a handicraftsman from a municipality in Laguna" whose cottage industry, which had begun exporting to other countries, had been "virtually wiped out" by globalisation.

From its humble beginnings as a course, then a unit, then a department, an institute and a full college today, the Los Baņos School pioneered the communication development field.

This brief has highlighted some facts, which some modern scholars ignore, especially with regards to the achievements of Third Word scholars.

Yet, we must acknowledge that the Los Baņos experiments of the 1950s were not meant to test the modernisation paradigm. They were, instead, an attempt to grapple with the rising poverty in the Philippines. Clearly, the school's pioneering practice was original: It shaped global discourse, practice and training in development communication.

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