Although South African universities graduate thousands of students every year, the economy is yet to benefit from the influx of graduates into the job market. This is because some of the qualifications are not directly responsive to the critical skills shortage in specialised fields such as engineering, science and technology as well as accounting and mathematics. Moreover, many of the graduates lack soft and cognitive skills that have become equally very essential in global markets. Today, despite myriad of challenges riddling the African National congress (ANC) led post-apartheid government, the two worrisome ones are: low quality education and the unemployability of recent graduates.
The transformation processes at many South Africa universities have tended to concentrate not only on addressing racial and/or gender imbalances but also on producing a new breed of graduates with skills that can be marketable both locally and internationally. On the one hand, this implies producing more engineers, scientists, accountants and mathematicians and on the other hand, improving the repertoire of cognitive skills of their students (Ng’ambi & Johnston, 2006; Pineteh, 2010). However, in the bid to respond to the demands of local and international markets, South African universities like many other tertiary institutions around the world, are becoming part of the “new vision of universities as transnational business corporations operating in a competitive global knowledge economy” (Shore 2010: 15). Communication and cognate courses now focus on socialising students within writing of specific disciplines and on the provision of technical skills instead of developing citizens holistically, so that they can be able to engage openly in intellectual debates across different spectrums (Gee & Green, 1998; Shore, 2010). In this article, I propose a model for Communication courses, which concentrates largely on the development of cognitive skills of Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) students. The paper is written against the backdrop of myriad challenging burdening the teaching of communication skills in this university. Some of these challenges include the pressures to position CPUT strategically within the framework of modern universities of technology and also forging a new identity as a research-driven institution by increasing research outputs. Therefore, despite the endless opportunities for creativity and imaginative thinking that courses like Communication are likely to offer non-traditional universities like CPUT, Communication lecturers have somehow failed to use these unique spaces in “educating people for citizenship or equipping individuals with a broad, critical liberal education” (Shore 2010, p.19). Instead, the course contents are often very pedantic and the lecturers use very mechanistic approaches to articulate key concepts, invariably shrinking the space for imaginative, collaborative and social constructivist learning (McCarthey, 1994; Pineteh, 2010). This approach contributes to produce graduates who are not only robotic in the way they think but also lack a clear sense of individual identity and citizenship.
I draw on personal experiences as a Communication lecturer and on reflective interactions with my students and colleagues to conceptualise the proposed model. The paper is partitioned into the following sections: teaching and learning in the South African context, Communication teaching at CPUT, collection and analysis of data as well as discussion of the proposed model.