AIME launches at UP

Posted on March 20, 2018

'We know that education is the most powerful weapon in the world (in terms of tackling society’s inequalities), as the late Nelson Mandela espoused; and by building bridges between the haves and the have-nots, the powerful and the powerless, between university students and disadvantaged high school kids, we stand a chance of arresting the tide of inequality.'

This was said recently by Jack Manning Bancroft, CEO of Australian social justice organisation, AIME, when he addressed a function at the University of Pretoria (UP), where his project was launched. AIME (previously known as the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience) was started by Manning Bancroft as a student in Sydney, 14 years ago, using university students to mentor indigenous high school pupils to complete school, or enter university or some form of training and employment, thereby improving their life chances.

He has now brought this concept to South Africa and Uganda and intends working with universities around the world 'using a 14-year-old proven model to fight inequality before it takes deeper root'. Manning Bancroft is targeting historically disadvantaged or marginalised high school pupils.

UP is the first in the country to work with AIME, which is identifying student mentors who will work with historically disadvantaged schools in the township of Mamelodi. Manning Bancroft said the project will start off with 100 to 200 historically disadvantaged learners and the content will be adapted for local use.

He explained that his mother is Aboriginal and his father white, and that as a student he felt he needed to do something to uplift the lives of young indigenous people. His idea emanated from his utilising 25 university students to mentor 25 indigenous children at a high school in Redfern, Sydney. Fourteen years later, AIME has 25 000 graduates, 7 000 mentors and 10 000 mentees in Australia (of which 75% are expected to enter university, or some form of training or employment), operating on 40 university campuses.

Historically, indigenous Australians suffered atrocities for years, resulting in a socio-economic chasm between them and non-indigenous Australians. While the Australian government has made efforts to narrow this gap, a report by Flinders University in 2015 revealed that indigenous pupils were falling behind their non-indigenous counterparts, in areas including academic results, attendance and school retention rates.

Said Manning Bancroft: 'Historical data in Australia shows 40% of indigenous people aged 18 to 25 are in university, employment or training. The non-indigenous average is 75% for the same cohort. AIME students have achieved between 73 and 78% for the last six and more years. We’ve closed the educational gap.'

Independent research has verified this programme, which sends its graduates into the world on an equal footing with the rest of the population.

Jack Manning Bancroft visited children at Uthando Primary School and Hope Secondary School.  

Using the metaphor that AIME is a bridge between high school pupils and university students, Manning Bancroft said the bridge has two lanes. 'The first lane carries buses of students from high schools to the university for programme days. On any of these days, there are three one-hour modules: AIME TV, an activity block and failure time.'

'AIME TV is when we bring play videos of mentors telling their stories from across the globe –  this looks like Ted Talks (influential videos from expert speakers on education, business, science, technology and creativity) meets Sesame Street (a children’s educational series) meets MTV. Thereafter, we roll into an activity block that allows the mentors to work with the mentees and digest the key messages of the TV-interview,' explained Manning Bancroft.

Failure time is where mentors teach pupils that failure is a part of life and is inextricably linked to learning. It entails pupils doing group work where they fail together. 'In this process we destroy the stigma of shame and its power to hold us back.'

AIME runs this programme for pupils aged 12 to 18, and during this time, they would each have completed over 45 individual sessions on the campus over six years, 'navigating a university campus and truly demystifying university as an option,' said Manning Bancroft.

Simultaneously, the second lane of the bridge with AIME carries carloads of student mentors from a university to a high school to engage in a series of one-hour sessions called Tutor Squads, where mentees and mentors work in small groups through homework, assignments and subject-specific quizzes.

'For the kids, the programme changes their lives. They come to us with low expectations for their future, many not wanting to finish high school. They leave, having increased their self-esteem and self-worth and with greater confidence. They are hungry to complete their education and step into significantly stronger futures.'

AIME helps place the pupils in university, training, or employment on completion of their schooling.

For Manning Bancroft, 'education is the one control risk factor that overcomes disadvantage. If every university built a mentoring structure, this will close the gap in social inequality.'

He explained that civil rights activists like Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King did their bit to bring about change. 'Now university students can stand up as mentors and 40 years later say we helped contribute to an education revolution. In return mentors acquire leadership skills and have an opportunity to leave a legacy.'

Participating universities pay AIME a fee while the organisation relies on donor funding for surival and funds from the sale of its branded clothing. Student mentors volunteer their time.

According to UP’s Vice-Principal: Academic, Prof Norman Duncan, 'through partnering with AIME the University of Pretoria will be able to assist in providing its students an additional platform from which to offer a service to local communities (social responsiveness is becoming an increasingly important aspect of our students’ education)'. 

Furthermore, through this partnership the University is also able to make a meaningful contribution to broadening the pool of students from disadvantaged communities who can obtain access to higher education, he said.

Prof Norman Duncan and Jack Manning Bancroft. Photos: Jake Trindorfer

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- Author Primarashni Gower

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