CFSC Pioneer: A Conversation With Nora Quebral by Cel Cadiz
Writing about CFSC Pioneer Nora Cruz Quebral, Maria Celeste H. Cadiz, dean of the College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines-Los Ba˝os, says Quebral views development communication's ultimate goal as the "realization of human potential.' In 1978, Cadiz was the most junior member on Quebral's faculty. Today, she says she enjoys working closely with her in consultancies and on projects at the University. Cadiz is also secretary-treasurer of the CFSC Consortium's board of directors.
"The Bottom Line is: We Are After Human Development"Ł: Nora Cruz Quebral and The Evolution of Development Communication
December 9-10, 1971 marked the emergence of development communication (devcom) as a concept that planted the seed for its academic discipline and programmes at the University of the Philippines Los Ba˝os (UPLB). This was the occasion when Nora Cruz Quebral first publicly presented her ideas on devcomm in a paper titled "Development Communication in the Agricultural Context,"Ł which she delivered in a symposium honouring the outgoing dean of the College of Agriculture. (Quebral later published the paper as "Development Communication"Ł in Solidarity, 1972. It was reprinted as "What Do We Mean by "śDevelopment Communication?"Ł in International Development Review, 1973-1972, and with its original title and a new foreword in the Asian Journal of Communication, 2006. It is also included in the upcoming CFSC Anthology: Historical and Contemporary Readings, 2006.)
The occasion also marked Quebral's emergence as devcom doyenne this side of the globe"öand she was and still is the graceful, poised NCQ as we more commonly call her. She is also a sharp, critical thinker and writer par excellence. Today, Quebral is professor emeritus and acknowledged pioneer of the development communication discipline at UPLB.
In 1971, when she delivered her landmark 1971 paper on devcom, NCQ was then chair of the department of agricultural communication at the then University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA, later the lead unit of UPLB). The department was renamed "development communication"Ł three years later, alongside the approval of the B.S. in development communication (BSDC) degree at UPLB.
That department has now evolved into a full-fledged, albeit small, college at UPLB that offers the BSDC; and through the UPLB Graduate School, the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in development communication; as well, with the University of the Philippines Open University (UPOU), the master's degree in development communication ( MDC) via distance-learning mode. Thus far, development communication graduates in these various degree programmes have numbered around 2,000, on top of whom are graduates of about 14 other colleges and universities in the Philippines offering a bachelor's"öand some, graduate programmes"öin devcom. These other programs are mostly replicas or adaptations of the UPLB programs, taught by UPLB devcom alumni. The BSDC is now a popular degree program among incoming UPLB freshmen, where entry has become more difficult relative to other programmes, given the stiff competition for the fixed 120 slots.
If devcom has come of age at UPLB, and the pains of its beginnings as a concept seems somewhat repeated today in the allied concept and discipline currently known as communication for social change, allow me to trace farther back its origins on our side of the globe.
Perhaps it would be enlightening to first know who Nora Cruz Quebral is: NCQ is the eldest of six children, the independent daughter of an elementary school English teacher. Noting her academic abilities, her father would ask her to help correct his students' papers. This, she confides, helps explain her admitted aversion to teaching formal courses, though she always preferred being out in the field trying out devcom concepts. In fact, her next book will focus on devcom as practice. She opted for early retirement from the University in 1988.
When schools closed at the beginning of the Second World War, three months before NCQ would have graduated from high school, she learned stenography and typing and started working as a secretary. She continued being self-reliant as a working student during part of her college years. In 1952, two years after she earned her bachelor's in English (graduating magna cum laude) UPCA recruited the young woman to its rural campus to be copy editor of its Journal of Philippine Agriculturist.
In October 1954, UPCA established an office of extension and publications to put extension in place as an additional function to instruction and research in the then 45-year old agriculture campus. NCQ was one of its three Filipino staff members, with an American, a professor named A.J. Sims, as their head. In 1957-59, she became the officer-in-charge of the new extension and publications office, which would later evolve into an academic department in 1962 and eventually to a full-fledged college of development communication in 1998.
NCQ took the helm of the department in three separate terms, with one or two-year gaps, totalling 17 years from 1966 to 1985.
The changes in name of her department, from "agricultural information and communication"Ł (1962), to "agricultural communication"Ł (1968), and "development communication"Ł (1974) reflect how she asserted her understanding and thinking about communication in development. "Information"Ł was first dropped as it was deemed redundant, and "development"Ł replaced "agricultural"Ł based on the realization that, even in an agricultural and rural context, farm families' wellbeing goes beyond the farming livelihood and context. Slowly, devcom also applied itself in non-agricultural contexts as the Philippine countryside changed.
In the mid-1970s, NCQ, along with her peers and junior colleagues, took pains asserting devcom as altogether a new concept and discipline apart from its Western cousins, mass communication and journalism. The expressed goal of their academic programs was to turn out a new breed of communication professionals whose role was to catalyse a multifaceted development process characterized as "people helping themselves."Ł Of late, similar efforts to distinguish communication for social change (Rockefeller Foundation 1999-2002) somewhat bring about a sense of dÚjÓá vu, more than three decades after devcom first came out in Los Ba˝os. For instance, NCQ was always quick to qualify that devcom in concept and practice departs from the Western mold of media-centric communication professions and programs, an assertion that somewhat rings a bell in the communication for social change discourse.
What makes the BSDC curriculum different, NCQ and colleagues asserted, is primarily the inclusion of 24 units (eight courses) of technical electives (later this decreased to 18 units or six courses) which equip would-be devcom professionals with the "what"Ł to communicate, not just the "how"Ł of devcom. These courses may be in agriculture, nutrition, forestry and other technical sciences offered in the university and whose units allow enrolment of devcom students. Meanwhile, students learned the "why"Ł of devcom in nine units of social science electives that would give them a firm grasp of development and social change processes and concepts, and of their own society, on top of core devcom courses where these are also tackled.
NCQ likewise insisted that the curriculum should have both an internship and a research component, defining devcom as both "the art and science of human communication linked to a society's planned transformation from a state of poverty to one of dynamic socio-economic growth that makes for greater equity and the larger unfolding of individual potential."Ł
She traces her thinking about developing the devcom academic programs, back to her career at UP College of Agriculture, the developments in the communication discipline at that time and her graduate studies in the United States. She earned her master's degree in science in agricultural journalism at the University of Wisconsin as a U.S. International Cooperation Agency and Philippine National Economic Council scholar, in 1956-57, then pursued her Ph. D. in communication at the University of Illinois as a Rockefeller Foundation fellow, in 1963-66. She had hoped to be mentored by Wilbur Schramm in her Ph. D. studies, who unknown to her, had already moved on from the University of Illinois to Stanford University. Like Schramm, she was an institution builder"öin addition to being an institution herself. She did meet up with Schramm in the 1970s at the then Communication Institute of the East-West Centre, when she was research fellow at a training program on communication for development.
NCQ also makes special mention of the influence of her research adviser, Professor Bryant Kearl at the University of Wisconsin's College of Agriculture, for broadening her perspective. She further acknowledges the influence of UNDP's Erskine Childers, and "Philippine rural sociologist Professor Gelia Castillo, who "wrote the book on how participatory participation can be."Ł Further, she drew inspiration from the works of Paulo Freire. She said, "When we started development communication experiments in the 1960s, we hadn't heard about Paulo Freire, but as we went along, Freire's writing became available."Ł
In addition, Quebral acknowledges the support and encouragement of Gloria Feliciano, Jan Servaes, Luis Ramiro Beltran, among others.
Today, NCQ enjoys serving as consultant and expert in development communication and guiding and interacting with devcom scholars. Her centre, the Nora C. Quebral Development Communication Centre, Inc. (NCQDCCI) which she founded after retirement from the academe, has undertaken a wide variety of devcom projects in health communication, environmental communication and agricultural communication. She remains to this day an analytical adviser and expert in the action research projects of the College, and a productive scholar.
NCQ asserts that adding "participatory"Ł to devcom is redundant, because devcom by nature is participatory and aims to empower the marginalized. If it was less participatory and empowering in its beginnings, it was because it was conceptualised in the context of the prevailing development and communication concepts at that time, eventually evolving with the changing views in development.
She likewise stresses using the prefix "in"Ł rather than "for"Ł in qualifying her discipline as communication in, notfor, development. The latter places communication only as a handmaiden, "assisting development only."Ł She admits, "It's the "śdevelopment' part which gives colour to "ścommunication.' Still, they are two processes; hence, devcom is a combination of the two processes."Ł This explains the phrase "communication linked to a society's planned transformation"Ł in her current definition of devcom. Precisely, she clarifies; it is because of the assumption that these two processes of development and communication are happening at the same time.
She says, "Now, the thinking in development communication is more correct. For instance, we acknowledge that the communication strategies, methods and tools used, including ICTs, affect the development process."Ł
She elaborates on her definition of devcom, "I realized at some point that I was really defining development as transformation, with "śrealization of human potential' as its ultimate goal."Ł However, she acknowledges that the economic dimension of development remains essential: "No communication in development project will prosper unless you incorporate livelihood, or unless you help people earn a better income."Ł She is quick to stress, however, that beyond promoting better livelihoods, devcom should be a nonformal education process, "developing the person's ability to analyse and decide. Devcom should present options, and then develop people's ability to make sound decisions"Ž. The bottom-line is, we are after human development. If this is so, then there are methods that we will not use, like subliminal and manipulative communication,"Ł she qualifies.
Acknowledging the changing definitions of development, she notes, "While we started with the economic dimension, we later added the social, cultural and political/ governance aspects, acknowledging the multifaceted nature of development."Ł Today, she notes that peace, or the lack of it, is a prevailing challenge. She asks, "How can there be development without peace? As peace starts from within the individual, development must also address the moral and spiritual aspects. Hence, even the definition of devcom changes as we gain in wisdom on the meaning of development."Ł
Commenting on globalisation and cultural differences, NCQ asserts that devcom should promote intercultural understanding and dialogue, unity in diversity. "We ought to work for understanding among countries, valuing cooperation, not one-upmanship or self-interest,"Ł she elaborates.
Alongside the changing definitions of development, NCQ asserts the value of devcom practice and how the profession continues to evolve amidst its changing challenges. She further asserts the strong link between devcom practice and theory/ knowledge, and in turn, between the practice and its academic programs.
During the 9 th U.N. Roundtable Discussion on Communication for Development in 2004, participating experts and practitioners observed that discourses taking place now seem only to echo arguments that were already raised three decades ago. Perhaps, devcom theory has not grown in leaps and bounds; or perhaps, its practice often has not been faithful to its origins/concept while concrete support for it waxed and waned in the development agenda over the years.
So NCQ reminds younger devcom scholars and practitioners to acknowledge the roots of the devcom discipline and thereby build on it, based on an appreciation and deep understanding of its history and the societies today, both global and local, in which it operates.Click here to return to MAZI 6