By Sylvia Mugwagwa, Penultimate Year LLB Student
For the second consecutive year, over 50 Gadra Matric School (GMS) alumni graduated from Rhodes University in a single graduation ceremony, which marks a significant milestone in the journey to transform education in Makhanda.
GMS is a second-chance school for learners who seek to improve their marks in selected National Senior Certificate subjects with the goal of accumulating the required points to gain access to universities.
GADRA Education (the holding organisation of GMS) partnered with Rhodes University in 2015 to assist with the vision of Pathways to the Future, which was spearheaded by Rhodes University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sizwe Mabizela, upon his inauguration. The initiative aims to address the issues of unequal access to quality education in Makhanda through various programmes.
This focus has since also been solidified in the University’s Institutional Development Plan (IDP 2018-2022), particularly Goal 2, which states, “Enable access to Rhodes University by all academically-qualifying students and provide them with conditions which enable all students to flourish and which promote their holistic development as critical citizens.” and Goal 7: “Promote Rhodes University as an institution for the public good in local, provincial, national and international contexts.”
GADRA Education's Manager, Dr Ashley Westaway said GMS had become Rhodes University's biggest feeder school in 2015 and has more recently emerged as the biggest producer of Rhodes University graduates. Dr Westaway further expressed how the partnership has helped GADRA to not only gain physical access to Rhodes for its students, but also to prepare and support them to secure epistemological access to the programmes and degrees of the university (to use the terminology of Education Researcher Professor Wally Morrow). The partnership between Rhodes University and GADRA has resulted in tremendous educational success, especially at Grade 12 level. GADRA’s 2021 Annual Report describes this as "Makhanda's Meteoric Matric Rise".
In 2012, only ten local learners gained admission into Rhodes University, with 2015 only seeing 26% of local matrics attaining bachelor pass rates and an overall 62% Matric pass rate in the community. However, 2021 saw 47% of local matrics earning bachelor pass rates with an 82% matric pass rate. As of 2022, 135 local learners have been able to gain admission into Rhodes University.
One programme that Dr Westaway has credited for contributing immensely to the evident increase in the quality of local education for young people in Makhanda is the bridging programme that GADRA offers, introduced at the invitation of Doctor Mabizela. The programme was started in 2016 and allows select GMS students to be registered for one or two National Senior Certificate subjects and one or two first-year credits at Rhodes University simultaneously. Dr Westaway commented on how the initiative has not only aided the success of GADRA's programmes but has also played a vital role in "increasing the access of local students to the University and local students graduating from the University, which is obviously important for the long-term sustainability of the city."
Reflecting on all that GADRA has achieved over the past couple of years, particularly having over 50 of their alumni graduate from Rhodes University in 2021 and 2022, Dr Westaway beamed: "It is a fantastic achievement. We are basically a community organisation, and we exist for the sake of the community. The organisation is very well-known and loved in the community. So when you have this kind of volume of students coming through and realising their goals, it means our ties and links with the community get stronger and stronger."
One of GADRA’s alumni Thembani Buka, a part-time teacher at Victoria Girls Primary School just graduated with his Bachelor of Education. He said when he went to GMS he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. “GADRA taught me a lot about grounding myself as there were programmes that involved mentoring. I am coming from a disadvantaged public school and GADRA taught me about disciplining myself and their teachers gave me a sense of direction and that is what motivated me to be a teacher,” he said.
Community Engagement Director at Rhodes University, Ms Diana Hornby expressed how beneficial the partnership with GADRA has been for the community. She said: "Rhodes University has been working on driving development through equal, mutually-beneficial community-university partnerships which has yielded promising societal impact. Our partnership with GADRA is an example of highly effective collaboration. This is a significant shift away from deficit models to strategic engagement with our broader community in the interest of transforming our country."
Doctor Mabizela expressed pride in these young people who “have taken full advantage of the opportunity presented to them”. He said: “I honour, commend and salute GADRA for the tremendous work they are doing in assisting these young people to regain their confidence and dignity after having struggled with their matric year.”