Rhodes University’s Education Department makes history

Rhodes University’s Education Department makes history
Rhodes University’s Education Department makes history

 By Zandile Hlabangane, fourth-year BJourn student


For the first time in Rhodes University history, the Education Department graduated undergrads in the Bachelor of Education (BEd) four-year programme.

Historically, the Education Department would only offer postgraduate degrees as add-ons to other degrees from other faculties, for students who wanted to become educators in their respective faculties. The Head of Department, Professor Mgqwashu, along with his colleagues Sarah Murray and course co-ordinator, Zukiswa Kuhlane, are the key people behind the programme.

Explaining the reason behind starting an undergraduate programme, Murray, who was involved in the construction and research of the curriculum, said there was a shortage of foundation phase teachers, particularly those who could teach in African languages.

She added, “The greatest shortage was with isiXhosa speaking teachers in the country as a whole, and in this province the universities were not producing isiXhosa speaking foundation-phase teachers.”

In the Eastern Cape, most of the foundation phase teachers are between the ages of 45 and 65 and are nearing the end of their careers. The Department of Higher Education identified this is as a critical area of need, and as a result, started to allocate bursaries.

The Department of Higher Education (DHET) together with the European Union, started a big research project in which Rhodes University was involved. The process behind the undergraduate programme started when Professor Jean Baxen, who was the Deputy Dean of Research at Rhodes University, headed up the University’s contribution to the European Union project.

Rhodes University was a consortium of four universities which included the University of the Western Cape, Nelson Mandela University and Walter Sisulu University. At the time Nelson Mandela University was the only university out of the four to offer the BEd programme. They worked for three years in various ways to prepare the ground for all of the universities to be able to offer the BEd programme, and for Nelson Mandela University to review theirs.

Rhodes University then started to put in the application to be able to run the BEd and foundation phase teaching.

When asked what separates Rhodes University’s BEd degree from other universities, Kuhlane stated that the one thing that makes their BEd degree unique is the kind of relationship the Department has with its students; a relationship that was built at the start of the programme. She said: “When being interviewed for the position, the concept that came to mind was to be able to produce capable teachers.”

Coming from a teaching background herself, Kuhlane understood what it meant to be a foundation phase teacher. She also added that the Education Department was able to produce students who came with the mindset of contributing, theoretically and research-wise, towards the classroom and understanding the practice of what it means to be a teacher and what is expected of them in this day and age.

She said, “What we are able to do in this BEd programme is to align the concept of research and teaching, which I think is very unique and profound in this programme.”

With regards to making history at the University through the first undergraduate programme in his department, Professor Mgqwashu explained that if we look at the racial composition of the group of graduates – placing emphasis on isiXhosa speaking students – it not only changed the demographics of Rhodes University, but also that of the Department, which meant that they have more students from rural contexts.

Professor Mgqwashu said, “From a transformation point of view, it is really a powerful thing to have and a very important contribution by our department to Rhodes University.”

Initially, there was a huge resistance within the institution in terms of the launching of the BEd programme, because the emphasis was placed on the postgraduate programmes. However, the Education Department has proved its competency with the first 42 graduates holding a Bachelor of Education qualification.