Changing a city, one child at a time

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Changing a city, one child at a time
Changing a city, one child at a time

Rhodes University is committed to play a significant role in revitalising public schooling in Grahamstown. The extent of its commitment is underlined by the fact its Vice-Chancellor, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, personally heads up an institutional programme aimed at coordinating all efforts in this regard.

The country’s education problems are increasingly well-known. Last year for example, it was confirmed that four out of every five South African children in Grade 4 cannot read for meaning in any language.

What makes Dr Mabizela’s initiative unique is that he recognises the Rhodes University student body as an educational resource. Specifically, he sees agency, capacity, intelligence and compassion in every single Rhodes student.

The purpose of the university programme is to harness these qualities, so that Rhodes can change schooling in this city for the better. After all, the problem here is manageable – only 1 200 children enter the schooling system every year. There are only about 15 000 in the Grahamstown public schooling system as a whole, compared with hundreds of thousands in larger localities.

Moreover, when one considers that there are more than 7 500 Rhodes students, then in theory, if every Rhodes student took responsibility for the educational development of only 2 school children the student body could cover the entire local system!

Dr Mabizela has tasked RUCE (Rhodes University Community Engagement) to harness and organise student volunteering. This office is situated on Prince Alfred Street and headed up by Ms Di Hornby.  Over the past few years, RUCE has done an excellent job in raising the status and profile of community engagement and volunteering on campus.

There are many wonderful education volunteering options at RUCE, ranging from reading support for foundation phase learners all to way up to mentoring support for matriculants.

Furthermore, RUCE is increasingly committed to testing and improving the effectiveness of its programmes. That is, it seeks to offer programmes that do what they set out to do. For example, everyone involved in the matriculant mentoring programme (called 9/10ths) is very excited by the fact that it assisted 52 Grade 12s from local no-fee public schools to obtain Bachelor level passes in 2017. Many of these young people will be registering as first-year students this weekend. Since one of Dr Mabizela’s aims is to make Rhodes University accessible to the local community, this is tangible evidence that progress is being made.

Increasingly, one of the hallmarks of an excellent Rhodes student is a commitment to community engagement. All students are invited to visit RUCE to learn about the exciting volunteering programmes on offer.

  • Ashley Westaway, GADRA Education