Language and communication courses in mainstream disciplines at CPUT are seemingly failing to remedy the problems that South African students bring to the universities. Evidence from student writings and other array of communication activities suggest that these courses have also been affected by the new vision of modern universities. Clearly, they have the potential to emancipate, empower and socialise students into academic discourse. However the course lecturers have failed to use this space to stimulate meaningful teaching and learning.
Instead, they and their like-minded colleagues in other courses are contributing to produce graduates who can not function effectively in the South African marketplace. Despite the severity of the problem, the South African Department of Higher Education still considers Communication as a mere support course, especially in universities of technology like CPUT, and therefore not entitled to the same financial subsidy as mainstream courses. Consequently, the delivery of Communication courses has tended to suffer from lack of adequate human and material resources as well as adequate contact hours (Ng’ambi & Johnston, 2006). Secondly, CPUT students do not prioritise these courses, even though they support their inclusion in the mainstream curricula. This justifies the unprecedented poor rate of attendance, low pass rates and the incessant disruptive patterns during Communication lectures. Thirdly, the course contents and teaching methods have also contributed unwaveringly to the lackluster performance of students. The contents are not stimulating and do not provide space for critical and creative thinking. Instead they concentrate largely on the development of workplace skills using very mechanistic and pedantic teaching methods (Pineteh, 2010).
Mindful of these challenges, lecturers need to think imaginatively in order to transform the teaching of Communication into an invigorating and memorable experience for both the lecturer and the students (Thomas & De Villiers, n.d.). Very often this does not happen because of the pressure to cover a substantial amount of communication concepts and administer an equally substantial amount of assessments within one academic year. Because of insufficient contact hours, these lecturers tend to pay more attention to work-related or vocational skills such as business correspondence, teamwork, time management and conflict management, and no attention to other essential cognitive concepts such as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, language and academic literacy (Pineteh, 2012). However, to minimise the risk of failure and also promote the development of the same work-related skills, focusing on vocational skills is not a most viable strategy. This is because the students’ lack of proper communication skills is a direct consequence of their complex linguistic, schooling backgrounds and literacy experiences (Jansen, 1998; Ng’ambi & Johnston, 2006). Consequently, the single most effective way of addressing this problem is the development of cognitive skills and “academic literacy practices— reading and writing within disciplines — [which]constitute central processes through which students learn new subjects and develop their knowledge about new areas of study” (Lea & Street 1998: 157).