Life lessons: Principles from former Dubai principal case

Teaching journalism can have a lasting impact on students, regardless of what education or careers they choose to explore once they graduate.

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Mahatma Gandhi said that a journalist’s peculiar function is to read the mind of the country and to give definite and fearless expression to that mind. Journalism plays a critical role in the development of any society. It’s a driving force for social progress, thought and expression. It informs the public on important matters; it holds entities and people accountable for their actions and decisions; and it’s a strong platform for dialogue on topics and issues that impact people the most. Being a journalist comes with great responsibility to readers and the community affected by the news. It can bring people together or tear them apart.

I read a story recently about a group of journalists who worked for their student newspaper in the American state of Kansas. The students and editors decided to write a story on their newly hired principal, and as they researched, they began to find gaps in and questions about her profile and background. They were unable to find proof that she graduated from an accredited university.

Despite being told to stop digging, they continued their research and published their article, which resulted in the newly hired principal submitting her resignation. What caught my attention is that the principal in question had been working and living in Dubai for almost 20 years, as an educator and consultant, before being offered the principal position. She had been hired by the Dubai American ­Scientific School, which came under scrutiny in 2012 and went on to have its licence suspended for failing inspections, which included several teachers and administration being unlicensed, including herself.

Beyond the Dubai connection, what inspired me about this story is the empowerment of the students and, more importantly, the freedom and support to speak out once they had completed their research.

I’m a big advocate of student-­run papers, for teaching journalism in schools and giving students the freedom to speak out on issues with the confidence that they won’t be penalised for highlighting issues that impact the school community. This isn’t a pass for students to complain about teachers and things that annoy them on a school paper because they’re too scared to say it to their face, but a mature publication that covers important stories and issues with one goal in mind – the progress and positive development of their community in the school and beyond.

Journalism can be a great programme that teaches students the importance of critical thinking and in-depth research to get to the true heart of an issue. It offers platforms for healthy debate and discussion on matters where there has been conflict in the past. It gives students a strong sense of responsibility and empowerment towards their administration, teachers and fellow students to do what is right, to seek and tell the truth, and to be a voice for good. It teaches students about accountability; that we’re always responsible for our actions.

American journalist Dan ­Rather said: “Ratings don’t last; good journalism does.” I believe that teaching journalism can have a lasting impact on students, regardless of what education or careers they choose to explore once they graduate. They will be prepared to think deeply about matters and seek the truth, whether that is for their lives or the world around them. They will be more responsible and ask more questions, which means they will always be learning and growing. For the future of our country and region, that’s a powerful thing.

Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati columnist and social commentator. He lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and two sons.

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