September 10, 2012
September 10, 2012
ACCRA, GHANA – In a small, crowded classroom on the campus of Ghana Institute of Journalism in Accra, Ghana’s capital, more than 60 students converge every Wednesday to give voice to issues concerning them using a new student publication.
The platform, called “Keteke,” is a new student initiative founded by Samuel Creppe, a 25-year-old student in his second year at the institute. Creppe says the goal of the platform is twofold: to strengthen the students’ voices on issues that concern them and to practice the skills they are learning in the classroom.
Creppe, who is studying public relations and communications, says he surveyed students to find out what they wanted.
“As a result, I came up with an initiative, which will serve as a platform for students to air their views and practice what they are being taught in the institute,” he says.
Keteke has three means of disseminating information: a tabloid, a newsletter, and a website that features news and blogs. The tabloid comes out every two weeks, and the newsletter comes out twice every semester.
Keteke means “train” in the local Ga dialect.
Creppe says just as trains are fast and accommodating, he hopes Keteke will be a fast, dynamic information source for a diverse population.
At the Ghana Institute of Journalism, students started their own publication after noticing the need for freedom of expression on campus. The club also offers a platform for students to practice what they learn in the classroom, all the while honing their entrepreneurial skills. This initiative is unique, as many universities across the country do not have student-run publications. The main challenge for Keteke is funding, but the group is optimistic and has set goals to expand to other campuses in the next few years.
Many universities do not have student-run publications, according to students from various schools.
At the Ghana Institute of Journalism, Ashong says that Keteke has gained the highest membership of any student group within its first year. Francis Gbadago, the current president of the Student Representative Council, the university’s student-government body, confirmed this.
Keteke fills a void detected by students at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, says Gabriel Obodai Torgbor Ashong, co-founder and chairman of the initiative.
“As students of GIJ, we saw a number of challenges,” says Ashong, who is in his second year at the institute studying journalism.
In the classroom, students learn about the importance of freedom of expression to democracy. The student-led organization, which started barely a year ago, is crucial to practicing this tenet on campus, Ashong says.
“The fact that GIJ being a communication institute, which has been in existence for over 50 years, has no radio station and also does not have its own newspaper was a worry to us,” Ashong says.
Gbadago, president of the Student Representative Council, calls Keteke a step in the right direction.
The students strive to use Keteke to bridge the communication gap between school administrators and students in order to address challenges that students face.
For example, the lack of online communications forced students to commute to school during vacation in order to find out their tuition costs for the coming semester. The application process was also tedious for prospective candidates because they also had to come to the campus to complete it.
As first-year students, Creppe and Ashong felt it was necessary to address these and many other challenges hampering students’ academic experience.
As the campus’ sole information platform, Keteke welcomes contributions from all students, not just the editorial team.
Addy Joana Ankomaa, a journalism student, serves as a club organizer. She says Ashong enlisted her to start writing for the newsletter.
Ashong approached her and asked to write an article last year.
“He did not tell me what it was for," Ankomaa says. "He only said I should write an article on any issue bothering me. So I went home, picked [up] a pen and poured my heart out.”
Her first article was about the school cafeteria.
“People from [the] administration get to read the articles that are written and published by student members and are always impressed,” Ankomaa says. “Our articles inform the administration on the plight of students or what is new on campus.”
She says it also connects students with student government.
“Keteke is like a platform for the students to bridge the gap between students and the SRC,” Ankomaa says.
Keteke members can attend the Student Representative Council meetings to give input and scrutinize its policies. Gbadago says the council has embraced Keteke because its partnership with the group makes the political process on campus more transparent for the student body.
“Constructive criticism will only keep us on our toes and to make sure that the right thing is done,” Gbadago says.
Ashong says Keteke has made the process more transparent and democratic for a coming election.
Keteke also holds community outreach programs and other student-related activities whereby the council is accountable to the students through open forums.
Ashong says the adminstration has also been supportive since the platform gives students studying journalism, communications and public relations a practical outlet for the skills they learn in the classroom.
“For so many years now, they have been doing just the theory aspect of their course,” he says. “So Keteke became a platform for them to practice what they have learned in the classroom.”
Beatrice Agyei, a first-year student in journalism, says she joined Keteke to gain hands-on experience. She has also gained self-confidence in the process.
“It has given me the chance to write more and more articles and express my thoughts freely,” she says.
Keteke is also working with professional journalists to provide skills training and career advice. Recently, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, a renowned journalist in the country, conducted a hands-on journalism training for Keteke members. Creppe says that Keteke is also trying to create a platform for media professionals to share their experiences and expertise with club members in order to add to their knowledge and skill set before they enter the job market.
Gbadago says Keteke also enriches students’ entrepreneurial skills.
“If students, for that matter young people, have sat down and come up with such an idea,” he says, “then it’s brilliant.”
Ashong says he hopes Keteke will follow in the footsteps of other successful news initiatives created locally.
“I even hear Africa Watch was started by someone in his bedroom, but now it is a major newspaper around, employing lots of people,” he says.
Keteke has already created new opportunities for students.
“Personally, I must say that it has really helped me,” Ashong says. “As we speak, I have been called upon to become the correspondent for an international broadcasting house based in South Africa called the CII.”
He says that one of the editors saw his work on Keteke’s online platform.
“Students come to me for advice on how to edit their articles,” he adds.
Keteke founders say they hope it will inspire the creation of other student-run publications, which are rare at universities in Ghana.
Kimberly Chirenje, a student at the Central University College, says a platform like Keteke is necessary to keep students informed about important issues.
“Usually when I need to get information, I will have to go to the notice board or hear from people,” she says. “However, with the newsletters, you get to put your own views and write articles on what the authorities are being expected to do.”
Chirenje says there are no student-run publications at her college.
Students Kwaku Boakye Appiah of University for Development Studies; Daniel Agbenoto of African University College of Communication; Tabitha Addy of University of Ghana; and Stella Schandorf of Accra Polytechnic all said that their schools did not have a student-run publication either.
“We are in a democratic dispensation, and Chapter 2 of the 1992 constitution clearly defines that there must be press freedom,” Gbadago says. “Therefore, I encourage schools and tertiary institutions to give young people the chance to be creative in order to make a difference. It makes the authorities and the SRC accountable to the people.”
Despite Keteke’s success, the club still faces challenges, mainly when it comes to funding.
The group raises some funds from the newsletter.
“We sell the [newsletter] for 1.50 pesewas,” he says, which is equivalent to 80 cents. “The tabloid is free, and it is only the newsletter that is sold."
Each semester, the Student Representative Council gives 150 cedis ($80) to the clubs and societies on campus to cover administrative costs. The council also gives the club endorsement letters to seek sponsorship from local institutions.
“The money we get from the SRC is not enough to help us run our activities,” Ashong says. “With our first major publication, we had to make sponsorship cards moving from one student to the other, and this made it very tedious.”
The group hopes that the club’s patrons – professors who have signed on as honorary members – will help them fundraise and invest in the club. In the meantime, students have been contributing the majority of the budget.
“The funding comes from students,” Creppe says.
Creppe says finding meeting space is also difficult because classrooms are fully booked.
Despite the challenges, Gbadago encourages Keteke to press on.
“This is how it starts and before they realize, they are up there among the big papers and magazines as well,” he says, nodding his head. “I will only urge them not to be relaxed, but they should remain steadfast. ”
In five years, the members of Keteke hope to start a magazine to bring positive youth issues to light.
“We believe that Keteke has a future and will like to expand to other campuses as well,” Creppe says.
He urges students to get involved.
“The school represent[s] more than just an educational opportunity,” he says. “Each and everyone needs to take any opportunity that comes our way.”