By Matimu Shivambu
Twenty-seven (27) students who came through the 9/10ths programme were awarded different qualifications in the recent Rhodes University graduation ceremonies held earlier this year. The University regards this achievement as confirmation that the programme works incredibly well.
The 9/10ths programme was conceptualised and launched in 2016 and is now in its eighth year. The programme was established a year after the inauguration of the current Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sizwe Mabizela, and forms part of his vision to revitalise public education in Makhanda. In his inaugural speech, Professor Mabizela promised to robustly tackle the challenges faced by the greater Makhanda community and lead an inclusive University that will contribute immensely to community building.
He committed the University to revitalise public schooling in Makhanda, and his dream of improving the standard of education from early childhood level, primary and second phases, has led to several educational initiatives, including the 9/10ths programme. The 9/10ths programme was one of the Vice-Chancellor's first initiatives to be implemented. Through this initiative, Rhodes University student volunteers mentor local grade 12 learners through nine structured sessions, including study skills, discipline, and career opportunities to enhance learners' full potential and equip them to pass at the tertiary level.
Moreover, the Vice-Chancellor raised concerns about the dysfunctionality of the schooling system in Makhanda and highlighted that the Eastern Cape Province is by far the worst-performing province in public education. Therefore, his Education Initiative is intended to be a vehicle of social change, transformation, and educational development in Makhanda and the greater Eastern Cape province. Professor Mabizela asserted that Rhodes University has a transformative responsibility to play in public education in Makhanda.
The 9/10ths programme is supervised and managed by the Rhodes University Community Engagement Division in partnership with local Makhanda high schools and a local non-profit organisation (NGO), Gadra Education. Moreover, each community partner has a set of responsibilities and participatory obligations. At the beginning of each academic year, Rhodes University students apply to be part of the programme, and after a rigorous selection process, student leaders and volunteers are chosen. Sessions are led by a group of these mentors, and they also serve as a source of information and liaison for the Rhodes University Community Engagement Division and partners.
These mentors also provide moral support and build resourceful engagement with these learners to ensure they reach their full potential.
Over the past few years, the 9/10ths programme has significantly contributed to revitalising the public schooling system in Makhanda. The impressive quality of the National Senior Certificate results in Makhanda reflects the programme's impact. Furthermore, the programme did not just impact Makhanda or the greater Eastern Cape province but has gained global recognition.
In 2021, Rhodes University's 9/10ths programme won the MacJannet Prize for Global Citizenship. This award recognises exceptional and exemplary university student civic engagement programmes worldwide. Rhodes University is the first South African university to win first place for this prestigious prize. Such recognition and achievement prove that the Vice-Chancellor's dream and educational initiative of revitalising public schools in Makhanda has succeeded.
From town to gown
Two student beneficiaries of the 9/10ths programme, Sinoxolo Cossie and Sibulele Teyi, obtained their degrees this year with distinction.
Cossie remembered his time in the 9/10ths programme as a great experience. "The programme was quite beneficial coming from a public school (Nombulelo Senior Secondary School) with limited resources. The mentor I was assigned was immensely helpful to me in terms of studying productively, structuring essays, accessing the soft material resources I desperately required, and developing the mental strength I needed to succeed academically. I just earned my Bachelor of Social Sciences degree and am studying for my History Honours degree. It was an important milestone for my family because I was the first graduate. May the initiative continue to support children in the community and aid them in realising their dreams," he said.
The Director of Community Engagement at Rhodes University, Diana Hornby, applauded the recent graduates that were mentees of the 9/10ths programme. She said, "Graduation is more meaningful than registration. Of course, 9/10ths focuses on assisting mentees (Grade 12s) with their applications to Rhodes University. But while we celebrate the number of mentees who are accepted to register at the University, participant graduation is the ultimate indicator of the programme's success. Therefore, seeing 27 students who were 9/10ths beneficiaries graduate this year is very pleasing."
This year the 9/10ths programme assists 224 grade 12 learners across Makhanda, all of which are from no-fee public schools. Hornby is convinced that the scale of the intervention is significant. The impressive quality of matric results produced by the city in the past seven years proves that the programme is indeed brightening the future of Makhanda's youth. The city has produced over 300 grade 12 Bachelor pass learners for the past two years.
Said Hornby, "In 2015, Makhanda was one of the four worst-performing cities in the country. But in the 2022 national matric exams, Makhanda was the top performing city in the province for the third successive year with an 85% pass rate – which is 8% higher than the provincial average and 5% higher than the national average.
Undoubtedly, the Vice-Chancellor's Education Initiative continues to play a significant role in transforming public education and building the greater Makhanda community. The leadership and commitment of Vice-Chancellor Professor Sizwe Mabizela, the Rhodes University Community Engagement Division, Gadra Education, partner schools, and Rhodes University student volunteers are an exemplary global case of true community engagement success. With 9/10ths, the sky is the limit.