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Dube investigates "challenges in journalism education and training in a transforming society"​


















                  
                                                  (Photo: Hennie Rudman, SSFD)

Dr Bevelyn Dube graduated with a PhD degree in Journalism from Stellenbosch University (SU) in December 2013. Prior to receiving her degree, she presented some of the research contained in her thesis at the 3rd World Journalism Education Congress (WJEC) in Belgium. Her paper, which focused on Transformation of journalism education and training in post-1994 South Africa: The challenges, was selected as the runner-up for the best paper presented at the conference. Lynne Rippenaar-Moses spoke to her about her research and the contribution it will make to scholarship in South Africa. ​​

QUESTION: Could you tell me what you currently do and why you decided to pursue a PhD in Journalism at Stellenbosch University?

ANSWER: I am currently a lecturer in the Department of Communication and Applied Language Studies at the University of Venda, in Thohoyandou, Limpopo Province. I chose to do my PhD in Journalism with Stellenbosch University because of the excellent reputation they have of producing quality journalism graduates. The department's keen interest on journalism curricula issues also persuaded me to choose Stellenbosch as my own interests lay in that direction.

Q: How did it feel to be selected as the runner-up for the best paper at the Belgium conference?

A: When my name was called out, I was stunned and humbled at the same time. It is only after I had actually been handed the prize and the certificate that the whole thing sank in. I must admit that I never expected to be selected for the any of the three prizes that were on offer; after all, over 100 papers were submitted at the congress. Besides, there were so many seasoned journalism scholars, and truly speaking, I did not even dream that I would be honoured in this way. I must admit that I would not have done all this without my wonderful supervisor, Professor Lizette Rabe. We have come from far, and when I look at the first draft of my PhD proposal, I wonder why she did not tell me to forget it. My growth academically and this award are all because of her. Thank you Lizette, You are a true role model.

Q: What drove you to focus on a topic such as the Transformation of journalism education and training curricula in post-1994 South Africa: The challenges, specifically for the Belgium conference?

Firstly, I was guided by the theme of the conference, "Renewing Journalism through Education", to focus on this specific aspect of my thesis. Secondly, despite the general consensus amongst journalism education and training (JE&T) scholars in South Africa that JE&T curricula should be transformed to meet the needs of a transforming South Africa, no significant change has taken place. My PhD study revealed several challenges that JE&T institutions in South Africa faced, challenges which made it very difficult for them to transform their curricula. I felt that these findings would generate scholarly debate as the challenge of transforming JE&T programmes is not peculiar to South Africa.

Q: One of the conclusions your thesis, entitled Challenges for journalism education and training in a transforming society: A case study of three selected institutions in post-1994 South Africa, reaches is that "despite the subject of transforming JE&T curricula in South Africa being topical since 1994, no significant change has taken place and that these curricula continue to be underpinned by Western epistemologies and thought." Could you elaborate on this?

A: It is no secret that most JE&T scholars in South Africa, as seen in the many conferences and colloquia, as well as the papers written on the subject of JE&T transformation, are not happy with the fact that JE&T curricula in South Africa are rooted on Western epistemologies, which put a lot of emphasis on observable and measurable facts and individualism. Scholarship in the Western context is viewed as scientific and detached from social concerns. Journalists educated in this tradition would be expected to be neutral and objective in their reporting. Whilst not completely dismissing Western epistemologies, South African JE&E scholars are almost all in agreement that these epistemologies are ill-suited to meet the needs of a transforming South Africa.

Knowing this and acting on it are, however, two different things. To de-Westernise the curricula, there is need to move away from Western-produced towards knowledge which is underpinned by African philosophies and thought. But what we currently have are programmes which rely heavily on Western-produced textbooks, especially textbooks from the USA. To compound the problem, South African JE&T educators, who are supposed to de-Westernise the curricula are themselves Western educated. This is a catch 22 situation. Africa in general and South Africa in particular still do not have the capacity to produce the knowledge which would lead to the de-Westernisation of the programme

We have to understand that transforming the JE&T curricula is never going to be easy, but it has to be done. I believe the first step towards transforming the curricula is to hold a series of workshops to discuss and come up with a possible model curriculum for JE&T schools in South Africa. The model can be adjusted to meet the needs of the individual localities. Curriculum development is a process, hence the need for a series of workshops. It is high time that South African journalism scholars acted on their convictions.

To de-Westernise the curricula, I would also suggest that South Africa JE&T scholars embark on an aggressive training programme in which potential researchers can be identified among journalism students. An investment in these young researchers can enrich South African journalism scholarship.

Q: What contribution will your research make to scholarship surrounding this topic in South Africa or the rest of Africa and even the world?

A: Firstly, existing literature shows that there are no studies on JE&T curricula in South Africa. None of the studies done since 1994 have made an attempt to show how a transforming South Africa is reflected in JE&T curricula. Most of the studies done in South Africa have focused on journalism practice in the media industry. This study, has, therefore, made a significant contribution to journalism scholarship in South Africa.

Secondly, the discourse of JE&T has largely been theoretical and commentary. This study, therefore, has contributed to knowledge on JE&T in South Africa by adding empirical findings to test transformation and blended this with theory. Its findings, though not generalisable to all JE&T institutions in South Africa, indicate the challenges that these tertiary institutions face in their endeavours to transform their curricula.

Thirdly, the study exposed the shortcomings of JE&T programmes at three universities examined with respect to their specific programmes and their contributions in a transforming country.

It has also has raised questions which have opened up new avenues for further study.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to journalists or even academics wishing to pursue a doctoral degree?

My advice is that more PhD students in the field of JE&T should carry out research on journalism education in South Africa. Transformation of JE&T in South Africa will not take place unless there is a concerted effort from JE&T scholars to research extensively on journalism curricula. I recommend Stellenbosch University because I believe it is one of the best in the field of JE&T in South Africa.

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