EBIT module teaches students to pay it forward

Posted on July 03, 2020

The Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology’s Community-based Project Module is built into its curriculum and is a way for students to learn life skills, be socially responsible and benefit communities.

July is Nelson Mandela Month, and organisations and individuals across the country turn out in full force at this time of the year to help communities in need.

UP students have also been playing their part. As part of the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology’s compulsory undergraduate course ­– the Community-based Project Module – students have been assisting teachers from various schools with online learning, as one of many projects.

The module has been presented for the past 16 years and more than 23 000 students have completed it, and worked on more than 6 700 projects. Annually there are between 450 and 520 projects. It is the only module of its kind in the country for students in EBIT.

“Students must work 40 hours in the community,” says Dr Martina Jordaan, co-ordinator of the module. The objective is to carry out a project related to community service and is aimed at achieving a beneficial impact by engaging with a section of society that is preferably, but not exclusively, different to the student’s social background. In this way students are able to develop an awareness of personal, social and cultural values; a willingness to serve; a deeper understanding of social issues; and important communication, interpersonal and leadership skills.

This year, 1 909 students enrolled in the module, and while the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown have posed a challenge to them, many found a creative way to do their fieldwork and meet their 40 hours of community engagement. “The focus of community involvement changed as community needs also changed – e-service projects constitute a new endeavour for students in the module and open several new opportunities for students to provide a meaningful service to communities,” says Dr Jordaan.

Schools that UP students have been helping with online learning include Palm Grove High School in Benoni, Tsako Thabo Secondary School in Mamelodi, Blue Hills College in Midrand, Laerskool Menlopark, Laerskool Queenswood, Laudium Secondary School and Pretoria Secondary School. “The teachers and students had to think of options that would accommodate the profile of the learners as well as the teachers, as online education is new territory for many schools,” explains Dr Jordaan.

Students assisted with Google Classroom, developed YouTube videos and PowerPoint presentations, and helped learners via WhatsApp. Other students developed YouTube videos focusing on specific topics in the curriculum.

“I did not realise how difficult a teacher’s job is, especially in the current pandemic,” says Nishsai Veerappa, a second-year BCom (Informatics) student, about her project at Laerskool Menlopark, where she is assisting the Grade 4 English teacher. “Learners rely on these presentations to learn the work that they should have learnt in class.”

Veerappa said the experience had given her new ideas about how to engage an audience and communicate with her own team members. “I am learning how to make the children engage and pay attention to what is being taught. It is done by using various visual techniques and asking questions in a variety of ways. I am also learning how to communicate with my supervisor and team members without face-to-face communication.”

“So far it has been a rollercoaster ride,” says Dylan Benecke, a second-year mechanical engineering student. “The school that we are helping has such limited resources; this means many of the learners and teachers don’t even have access to our videos and notes. We came up with ideas like compressing our videos, and are making a website so that more learners and teachers have access to our material. We also donated all of our high school textbooks to the school. It really has made me appreciate the educational pathway I have had.

David de Villiers and Kian Strydom, both second-year computer engineering students, assisted PEN NGO shelters and communities across Tshwane by developing an app for use by the Tshwane Homelessness Forum. The app is being used to help workers manage shelter needs and supplies during the epidemic so that they can provide for and assist their communities.

Other projects include students assisting with the making of masks and visors for schools, clinics and old-age homes. Some are also making educational resources for pre-schools as well as cat scratchers for animal shelters.

It is a win-win situation, says Dr Jordaan: communities benefit from the students’ assistance, and students learn important life skills and are able to complete their module successfully.

- Author Primarashni Gower

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