By Iviwe Mzandisi
A group of academics at Rhodes University’s Department of Statistics, have been working tirelessly to transform how high school learners perceive and engage with mathematics and statistics. The Grade 12 Mathematics Winter School is a service-learning initiative that has impacted both matric learners in Makhanda and the Rhodes University students teaching them. The Grade 12 Mathematics Winter School, led by Associate Professor Lizanne Raubenheimer, sought to inspire a love for mathematics in youth, particularly for financial maths, statistics, and probability.
The Winter School has been running since 2021 and involves classes and guidance for the learners to help prepare for their exams during the winter break.
The initiative has collaboration at its core, being implemented by a team of dedicated individuals. Prof Raubenheimer’s team includes lecturer Amy Langston and undergraduate and postgraduate students in the department. The five Makhanda no-fee paying schools involved are Ntsika, Nombulelo, Mary Waters, Khutliso Daniels and Nathaniel Nyaluza.
Prof Raubenheimer believes that students should not hate these subjects but learn to love and appreciate them. Financial mathematics, statistics, and probability are integral to everyday life, from managing personal finances to understanding economic trends. By empowering students with these skills, the Winter School is helping shape a future generation better equipped to navigate the complexities of the modern world.
Prof Raubenheimer is a passionate education advocate. She firmly believes that financial mathematics is a core skill that every citizen should possess as it equips them to make informed decisions about their financial matters. With this conviction in mind, Prof Raubenheimer has led the charge, changing the narrative of these subjects amongst the learners.
The Winter School is not just about inspiring students; it's also about supporting educators who play a pivotal role in students' lives. Beyond the classroom, the team actively engages with local schools and teachers. The aim is to create a robust support system for students and dedicated teachers who strive to make a difference in their communities.
Prof Raubenheimer fondly recalls a heartwarming memory that immediately comes to mind as she reflects on the project.
“This year, when I went to one of the schools and the other teachers came, one student immediately shouted, ‘Lizanne!’ And she hugged me without me seeing who she was, and she was a student in the project. Now, she is a teacher at one of the schools, and she was one of my actual students!”.
This story beautifully encapsulates the essence of the project by highlighting how community engagement is not about giving back, but about reciprocity and mutuality, which can result in personal growth.
Funding for the project is a key concern. The project is supported by Rhodes University Community Engagement’s service learning fund. The timing of the program also offers some challenges. During the cold and rainy winter break, logistical challenges present themselves, but the commitment to ensuring inclusivity from various schools remains.
Nevertheless, the Winter School team continues to navigate and overcome the various challenges that inevitably arise in the community engagement space. It impacts the learners who discover their passion for mathematics and statistics, the teachers who find support and encouragement, and the students who experience personal growth through their involvement.
Honors student Solethu Sibanda has experienced the transformative power of the program firsthand through her involvement in the Winter School. Aligning with her academic aspirations, Solethu has positively influenced aspiring statisticians and future academics.
“The benefit for me is that I also want to get into the field of academia. So it was impactful for me in terms of that as much as the little information or knowledge that I know can impact someone else. It's a reminder that even a little knowledge can profoundly impact someone's life,” she said.
Anele Sikhakhane, pursuing a Master's degree in the Department of Statistics, reflects on the rewarding experiences of assisting students. “It is my second year part of the project, so I’ve been there since the beginning. I met a particular boy in the project in the first year, whom I encountered later; he is studying here at Rhodes,” Sikhakhane says.
As it continues to face challenges and seek sponsorships, the Winter School's impact remains evident in the students who discover their passion for mathematics and statistics, the teachers who find support and encouragement, and the mentors who experience personal growth through their involvement. The Grade 12 Mathematics Winter School embodies the spirit of giving and getting back, creating a positive cycle of empowerment and education in the community.