UNESCO and the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria recently rolled out the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists in Africa. The course, which opened on 13 November 2017 and ran for five weeks, gave judicial officials, journalists, academics, and civil society members the opportunity to learn about and discuss these issues. The MOOC was built upon the success of a similar course launched in Latin America, where more than 5000 judges and legal professionals have been trained over three years.
The MOOC was a success in attracting a rich and diverse audience, with participants from a wide variety of backgrounds and nationalities. Participants from 42 African countries enrolled in the course, with Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe the most represented countries. Participants from 45 other nationalities also enrolled in the MOOC. 900 people participated in the MOOC, of which around 620 completed all five modules and received certificates delivered by the Centre for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria and UNESCO.
The content of the course was tailored to the African context and the needs of the specific target audience: judges and other members of the judiciary in Africa. 28% of participants of the MOOC were judges, lawyers and other legal professions; 5% were government officials, including law enforcement officers; 7% were journalists and media workers; 13% were activists and NGO workers; 11% were from academia; and 15% were students.
The MOOC was delivered in a format that combined video presentations and explanatory notes, supplemented by reading materials on the topics discussed per module and per theme. There were also discussion forums spread over the five modules of the course. Conversations on the forum were very vibrant and served as a useful tool to gauge and improve the level of understanding of the course materials provided to participants. Participants were also able to identify and share relevant real-life examples from their respective countries of how freedom of expression influences the enjoyment of other rights.
For Catherine Wanjugu Mburu, a Magistrate from Kenya, “the course was very enriching in providing a holistic approach to freedom of expression by not only looking at one’s country level and experience but regionally and internationally”.
Another participant to the course, also said “this is a very good course designed for different professionals with user-friendly resources and informative presentations and articles. As a lecturer, the course contents have enriched my understanding of the right to freedom of expression”.
Another participant from Tanzania added “the mode of delivery and learning of the course is cheap, user friendly and convenient and should be encouraged throughout Africa to enable many more to have this valuable knowledge. The course has inspired me a lot and influenced me to become a Human Rights expert in Africa and the world at large.”
This project was implemented in the framework of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, which aims to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers. It followed the seminar commemorating the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists 2016, which took place in Arusha, Tanzania, in partnership with the African Court and Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Court and Commission proved to be fundamental partners in this project, with Justice Ben Kioko, Vice President of the Court, and Ms Pansy Tlakula, former Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, acting as trainers in the MOOC. The project received the support of Denmark and the Open Society Foundations, with a technical contribution from Norway.
In 2018, UNESCO plans to deploy a similar project in French, targeting judges and other actors of the judiciary in French-speaking African countries.