The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Pre-University Academy (PUA) collaborated with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University to give learners from Mamelodi a rich learning experience that landed them in Hong Kong – virtually.
Learners from the PUA were part of a project initiated as a collaboration with the Department of Service Learning at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The Caritas Ma On Shan Secondary School in Hong Kong also participated in the project through which the Polytechnic University students taught the secondary school learners how to build a 360 cardboard viewer, use a 360 camera and create a 360 video with their footage. UP engineering students Janco Venter, Bryce van der Kaarts and Rohan van Zyl were brought on board to provide technical assistance.
Dr Martina Jordaan, Head of Community Engagement Research and Postgraduate Studies at UP’s Mamelodi Campus, said the project was initiated by the Polytechnic University but is a part of ongoing collaboration between the institution and UP.
Earlier this year, the learners from Mamelodi met with their counterparts from Hong Kong online.
“This programme gave the PUA learners an opportunity to work with a team of students and learners from Hong Kong. For all the learners, they had several first-time experiences which included the use of the platform Zoom, the use of the 360 camera and a visit to the Lory Park Zoo. We have also worked on various projects with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University including the very successful Hackathon in 2020,” Dr Jordaan said.
The PUA, based in UP’s Mamelodi Campus, is a programme targeting high school learners from Mamelodi and surrounding areas to help them develop academically and socially. The PUA makes use of a multi-pronged approach which aims to empower learners in terms of their traditional academic study, help develop teachers from their schools, encourage parental guidance and, ultimately, get them ready for their matric final exams and tertiary entry.
Beyond teaching them how to use new technologies such as a 360 camera and Zoom, where the project took place largely due to COVID-19 restrictions and the location of the international partners, the project also taught the South African cohort about various topics, from endangered species of animals in both countries, to each other’s cultures.
Learners from the PUA had the opportunity to interact with some of the wildlife at Lory Park Zoo.
Kicking off in late December 2020, the project began with Dr Jordaan presenting to the Hong Kong students a background session on South Africa, UP and the Mamelodi Campus and the PUA. Ten learners representing six schools in Mamelodi were selected to be part of the programme. Earlier this year, the learners met with their counterparts from Hong Kong online and began the work of getting to know one another and producing the videos. As part of the programme the Hong Kong students and learners took the PUA learners on a virtual tour through Hong Kong. In return, the South Africans shared their experiences at Lory Park Zoo virtually with the students and learners in Hong Kong. At Lory Park Zoo the learners had the opportunity to interact with various animals, even getting to feed the lions.
Dr Jordaan said some of the project’s challenges included internet connectivity issues experienced by students and dealing with potential exposure to COVID-19. However, these were addressed by finding creative and safe solutions.
“We were lucky that the learners are already very comfortable using the WhatsApp platform. When one of the computer lab assistants contracted COVID-19, we thought it best and safer to migrate for a few days to WhatsApp and Zoom sessions on their cell phones from their homes. In this way, the work of the programme was able to continue,” she added.
To make the project possible, the Mamelodi Campus bought one 360 camera, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sponsored and posted another three cameras worth almost R35 000. Additional web cameras and headsets were purchased for the project by the Mamelodi Campus. The three cameras will be used for another project in September before returning to Hong Kong.
Feedback from the learners and the engineering students showcased just how much of an impact the project had on them.
The project has taught the learners how to use new technologies such as a 360 camera and Zoom.
UP third-year engineering student Venter described the exchange as an enriching experience. “One can easily forget about other people who have their very own challenges and think the world revolves around oneself, but this project reminded me that I am not the only one with challenges. There are other people worldwide with their own challenges, some easier and some more difficult.
“It was an enriching experience connecting with Hong Kong. It is amazing to see other places without going there, and all of this within the lockdown period in South Africa. It also helped me to realise what technology and virtual reality can bring to this world; how you can make another world yours,” he said.
A PUA learner, Unathi Mpayipeli, from Mahube Valley Secondary School said the experience taught her to see beyond race and gender.
“I have learned a lot from the project, from communicating with different nationalities to teamwork. I learned communication skills and techniques and to be patient with other people. I learned not to judge by race and gender.
“It has also unleashed the adventurous part of me. Since I enrolled in this project, I see growth in myself,” she said.
Dr Jordaan said the project had created additional opportunities to grow and develop the relationship between the PUA, Hong Kong Polytechnic University and UP. While all of these are still very much in the discussion phase, she added that she is excited to see what the future holds.