(Published - 9 April 2020)
The South African - and global - workplace is more multicultural than ever before. So can Industrial Psychology training at universities based in Euro-Western traditions prepare students for the real working world? Or do we need to decolonise the field?
Edel-Quinn Nibafu decided to explore this issue in her postgraduate research - and her work earned her a Master’s degree in Industrial Psychology from the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
“My work is about investigating whether the theories taught within the Industrial Psychology department are relevant for students to adapt in a diverse work environment - and also to find out if the different teaching and learning approaches used by the department equip students for the workplace,” she explains. “In essence, my research shows that the teaching and learning approaches are not the teaching pedagogy, but how the lectures convey the theories with the aid of African examples for better understanding of the different courses taught.”
Her thesis, A critical examination of the contextual relevance of Industrial Psychology training at a university in the Western Cape, provided a brief review of the history and development of the Industrial Psychology curriculum in South African higher education institutions.
“My research revealed the very real need for a work-integrated learning approach for graduates to be more prepared for a diverse workplace - perhaps something similar to what is done with most technical universities and colleges,” she says. “Students are ultimately meant to take their place in the working world, and the rules there can be a bit different from the rules of university and academic life.”
Fortunately, she says, UWC already does a lot to give students the opportunity to gain workplace experience and guidance.
“There are a lot of opportunities that students can take advantage of before they graduate,” she notes. “For instance, there’s the Work Study programme that allows students to earn money and gain experience while studying. The Graduate and Career Expos for students to meet future employers, as well as the Career Xplora site and the Division of Postgraduate Studies (DPGS) that helps students with their research. UWC helps prepare us for the future.”
The other problem her work highlighted was a bit more vexing: the dominant influence of Western and European psychology on the African educational system, particularly in psychology and industrial psychology.
“The need was found for a teaching and learning curriculum that prepares students with multi-cultural knowledge, thus enabling graduates to embrace a diverse work environment,” she says. “Study participants agreed on the need for introducing more African examples in the teaching and learning of Industrial Psychology - to ensure the curriculum is applicable to a work context of a developing country such as South Africa.”
Originally from the North West Region of Cameroon, Nibafu loves travelling and sightseeing. She’s also passionate about people - and she chose her field accordingly.
“Industrial Psychology is the study of employee wellbeing and behaviour in the workplace, and it offers opportunities to work with people from different backgrounds,” she enthuses. “It’s an incredibly interesting field of study, and there’s still a lot of important research that needs to be done - especially in my home country, and on the whole African continent, really.”
She started studying a B.Com General at UWC - but two years in, she had to quit and attend to family demands in the Eastern Cape - and start all over again. But that didn’t stop her.
“I obtained a B.Com in Business Management & Industrial Psychology and a B.Com Honours in Industrial Psychology at the University of Fort Hare,” she says. “And when I got admission in 2018 for a masters at UWC and was offered funding by the Centre for Diversity in Psychological Practice (CDPP) under the supervision of Profs Marietta Du Plessis and Fatima Abraham, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.”
For Nibafu, the field has endless potential, and she aims to explore it to the fullest: she’s currently working with her husband in his new law firm, but is already looking for an opportunity to do her PhD.
“I want to dwell more into research and develop a more in-depth knowledge of Industrial Psychology - especially in Africa. And then I want to try to use my knowledge to benefit my people back home, and elsewhere. Industrial psychology is about people, after all - so what is it for, if not to benefit them?”