Igniting self-belief

For Professor Di Wilmot, the Dean of Education, the opportunity to teach learners Geography during the High Impact Supplementary School (HISS) provided exciting insights, directly from the learners’ perspectives, into her own research into the teaching of Geography.

Warning that miracles can’t be performed in four weeks, she said that it was exciting to be back in the classroom working with young people who were really wanting to learn: “It wasn’t only about teaching Geography, it was about teaching about the world and what it means to be in that world today,” she said. “For me what was exciting is that I have spent the past two years researching the teaching of Geography through the eyes and experiences or perceptions of teachers. I offered to participate because I think in teacher education we need to understand what the issues are on the ground. I got a sense of the agency that is being built by a programme such as this – of young people believing that they are capable. Their levels of motivation have increased, as have their levels of self esteem.”

And so how does the HISS fit into Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela’s vision for education in Grahamstown?

“The overarching goal is quality education for all in Grahamstown, and in order to achieve that we need different and multiple interventions,” said Prof Wilmot. “This one is a very short term one. I don’t know how improved the results are going to be as a result of it but there are more important social benefits – it’s about lighting a light in people’s minds, it’s about their belief in themselves.”

The HISS is one small initiative in a bigger scheme that becomes equally important as a social intervention in an environment where it is very easy to be despondent. It is important in that it builds momentum and provides an experience from which to learn and expand.

So how are we going to effect real change in schooling?

“We have got to start at the bottom and we have got to start building the foundations for learning that, for the majority of the children in our town, are still missing,” said Prof Wilmot.

 And this is where the Bachelor of Education (Foundation Phase) degree, newly launched this year, comes in. This degree builds on the Early Childhood Development (ECD) emphasis on ensuring that children are developmentally ready when they enter school so that their chances of success are high. “At the moment for every one child that starts school you almost have one dropping out and that is what tells us that there is a quality issue,” she said

The HISS, however, still has a crucial role in that it fits in with GADRA’s vision of creating pathways explained Prof Wilmot. “Many of these young people won’t get into university but at least they will have a certificate that gives them access to something else through support in life skills and work experience.”

In addition, those who don’t get a bachelor’s pass will be able to enrol in GADRA to improve their matric pass. Currently, 10 of the 40 current BEd (Foundation Phase) candidates are from the GADRA matric school.

Critically for these students, 26 of them are studying on Funza Leshaka bursaries which have been capped and are less than the Rhodes fees. “Our student enrolment has revealed that we have an increasing number of really poor students with either one or no parents. These are good, strong students and with the help of staff members such as Ms Zukiswa Kuhlane we are nurturing them, but the whole initiative needs everyone on board, including government, schools, private business and the university,” she said

Akhona Same, who was featured in the Rhodes Exchange, November 2014 issue, is an example of how a student with passion can be supported to do the degree. Enrolled of the BEd Foundation Phase on a bursary from the Diocesan School for Girls, she has been a temporary administration assistant of the Foundation Phase Education Programme in the Education Department since 2011. Her work with Professor Jean Baxen on a project to strengthen foundation phase teaching in many respects revived her passion for teaching and put her on her current path.