The ESU forms part of the University’s strategic transformation plan, and is designed to facilitate not only increased access, but also the success of students. In this way it provides a basis for addressing community and economic upliftment.
“The ESU is a vital part of the University’s goal of widening access to include learners with potential, from a more diverse range
of educational, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds,” says Dr Chrissie Boughey, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic and Student Affairs.
Upon arriving at Rhodes, first year students have to meet the multiple demands of a new educational environment. In order to help them in this regard, a fundamental part of the ESU is the TAI Student Peer Monitoring Programme. This aims to provide both socio-emotional and academic support to first year students.
“The TAI Student Peer Mentoring Programme is the longest-running student mentoring programme in higher education to date, having been in existence since 2003,” says programme co-ordinator Nicky van der Poel. In 2015, 90 former Extended Studies TAI students achieved a Bachelors degree and 32 achieved a postgraduate qualification.
One exemplary success story is that of Ntsika Kitsili, a Grahamstown local who went through the Extended Studies Programme and, after completing two degrees and a postgraduate certificate in Education (PGCE), is now teaching matric pupils at GADRA Matric School. GADRA is a Grahamstown-based education NGO which aims to mitigate the education crisis through facilitating the improvement of education locally.
Kitsili went to Nombulelo High School, and began his studies at Rhodes University with the help of a National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NFSAS) loan, a GADRA Education Bursary and financial assistance from his church. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and Journalism & Media Studies, he completed a postgraduate certificate and Honours degree in Education.
“I wouldn’t have coped without the TAI programme,” says Kitsili, “It really helped holistically – academically and socially.” Reflecting back on his time at Rhodes University, Kitsili says that the university experience was very different to his previous educational experiences. “You come from a life which is totally different. Township schools do not offer the same kind of social and [activity- related] opportunities that other schools do, so grappling with similar opportunities at university is daunting,” he says.
“[Besides academics], it was stressful dealing with things such as belonging and other social pressures,” he says. Negotiating culture shock and learning to be independent were just some of the challenges he faced. “[It helped having a] mentor with a similar background to say ‘Look, this is how I coped.’It really helped bridge that gap.”
Kitsili is currently a senior field worker for GADRA’s Primary Education Programme. His work includes helping teachers in township schools and assisting learners where he
can. He also facilitates parent engagement classes, runs a homework club for GADRA learners, and lectures part-time at Rhodes.
“I fell in love with teaching,” says Kitsili, “I want to help kids discover who they are.” When he goes to the township schools,
he reflects on how unequal and unfair the schooling system is. “When you go there and see the schools, you can’t help but think ‘It’s no wonder these kids don’t make it’. I want to help break the cycle [of poverty],” he says.