‘Giving back to your community is an absolute must for any young generation’ – Mekidela Belay of UP’s Pre-University Academy

Posted on June 25, 2021

The Pre-University Academy (PUA), located on the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Mamelodi Campus, runs a Saturday programme for high school learners (Grade 8 to 12) that provides quality education to help attendees transition from secondary school to tertiary education seamlessly. It aims to provide high school learners with inclusive, dynamic quality teaching and learning through well-equipped teachers, the integration of technology, and exposure to real-life problem identification and problem-solving strategies.

The programme is carried out with the cooperation of schools and communities to create a successful, efficient young generation that is equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitude and values needed on a more extensive/global scale. Learners taken into the programme foster a conceptual understanding of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM-related fields) and develop the personal skills required for success in education and the working environment.

Mekidela Belay, Academic Programme Coordinator at the PUA, details her involvement in the project and offers a few reflections on Youth Month.

Tell us a bit about your background and educational qualifications.

I am originally from Ethiopia and am passionate about science education. I completed my undergraduate degree in Chemistry Education at the University of Addis Ababa. After teaching first-year medical college students and high school learners for four and a half years, I enrolled for an honour’s degree in Science and Mathematics Education at UP, and am now close to finishing my master’s degree. My thesis focuses on the implementation of cooperative teaching and learning strategy in South African science classrooms.

What does a typical day look like for you as PUA Coordinator?

My schedule varies widely every day. I spend most of my time planning and following up on the execution of activities, cross-checking the implementation of some activities and following up with tasks that are due that day. I spend a few hours in meetings related to the development of the programme, the availability of materials on clickUP, learners’ attendance, communication with parents, etc. I also have to complete paperwork on learners’ needs and set up lists of activities for the upcoming weeks.

What are the highlights of your role?

I gain satisfaction from ensuring that the teaching-learning [model] is implemented as planned, and in taking lessons from what we experience through the implementation of our plans.

In reflecting on Youth Month, what are some of the challenges you see facing the young people that you interact with; and what do you think it will take to help overcome them?

The lack of intra- and interpersonal skills is an enormous challenge for the young generation in Mamelodi communities. Resolving such drawbacks requires the collaboration of parents, learners, schools, and other institutions and organisations to provide the opportunity for youngsters to enhance their self-esteem and feel a sense of belonging in the community. This can take place with continuous guidance through co-curriculum activities. 

What advice would you give to young people about perseverance and overcoming adversities?

It is not how little you did today; it is about how much better you did today than yesterday. Keep pushing and doing little by little every day, with full determination and effort. Also, learn from daily mistakes. Work hard to improve despite the obstacles and discomforts that you face. Remember to use the opportunities that you have right now to become the best version of yourself that you can be – follow the right track in order to succeed.

What advice would you give to young people about helping in their communities and having an impact?

The community that you are in contributes greatly towards shaping you and is a milestone for success. We are mirror reflections of our parents, who have also been shaped by their community. Giving back to these communities is an absolute must for any young generation – when you start doing little things for your community, it may seem like a little today, but it impacts two or more community members, who in turn will positively impact another two in the future. Use your profession to assist, and be part of the change – giving what you can to someone who needs help also leads to great personal satisfaction.

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