The guiding hand of UP’s Pre-University Academy

Posted on August 13, 2021

The University of Pretoria's (UP) Mamelodi Campus is a hub for community engagement, with a focus on enhancing access and successful student learning, as well as strengthening social responsiveness and the impact on society.

On this campus, the Pre-University Academy (PUA) follows a multi-stakeholder approach to extend its reach from the initial 500 beneficiaries to 30 000 youth. Learners from the 20 schools in Mamelodi and the surrounding areas are given the extra help they need with their schoolwork and to prepare them for tertiary studies. The campus is geared towards broadening educational pathways for post-secondary school attainment by providing access programmes in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM).

One of the programmes offered in the PUA is a Saturday school programme which presents seven courses on Saturday mornings for Grade 8 to 12 learners, aimed at complementing their schoolwork These are: Mathematics, Physical Science, Natural Science, Creative Writing, Language and Literacy Skills, Computer Literacy, and Examination Preparation. Learners can also join the Science Club and the Art Club.

“I had an amazing experience with the PUA last year and learnt a lot, from computer skills and mathematics to how to prepare for exams,” said Tebogo Simlindile (15) from Ribane-Laka Secondary School. “I also had a wonderful opportunity to meet international learners from Hong Kong Poly-Technical University via a Zoom project; they taught us how to use 360-degree cameras.”

“The Pre-University Academy helps learners to develop skills and knowledge to assist them in high school. The programme helped me solve school problems that I encountered during lockdown,” said Nthabiseng Sithole (16) from Hoërskool FH Odendaal.

PUA manager Moloko Malahlela said one of the programme’s objectives is to improve learners’ academic performance, as well as to help them with access to higher education through developing their critical thinking skills and conceptual understanding of the subjects. A seamless transition between secondary school and tertiary education, as well as further potential for success at institutions of higher learning, forms the crux of the intervention. “We see that learners need help with Mathematics more than with many other subjects, and often switch to Mathematics Literacy. We want to prevent this by assisting learners from grade 8 to grade 12, to improve their potential for success when they are at school, and after they enter higher education.”

He added that the basic education system is much like a pyramid: “Many enter the system, but we lose too many on the way to the top. We also aim to foster independence in learners, and familiarise them with the campus environment, so that when they do get here, they don’t feel out of place.”

The Mamelodi Campus has embarked on career interest awareness for a thousand grade 9 learners through online testing, to help parents guide their children to secure futures. Test results are shared with parents and they are made aware of the career opportunities that their child could pursue, and subject choices to best position them for these careers. Follow-up meetings are included.

Malahlela has worked in the education delivery and management field for 18 years, six of which as a mathematics and physical science teacher, before being appointed as manager of the PUA. “A lot of top learners can do well or better with just a little extra help. We also want to reach out to the child whose performance is not so good as well; seeing them flourish is very fulfilling. Being part of the programme for three or five years can really help a learner develop resilience and improve their thinking substantially. Many of them are going through a lot personally, and so we try to give them courage as well,” he said.

There are opportunities for all learners, in collaboration with multiple providers through structured Memoranda of Understanding, in engendering a college-going culture (post-secondary school), including tertiary institutions, schools, education departments, business and non-governmental organisations.

Dr Martina Jordaan, Head: Community Engagement and Postgraduate Studies, said: “The Mamelodi Campus has adopted an anchor mission strategy whereby the mandate aims to improve the economy and infrastructure of the communities in which it is located. The aim is to eliminate the barriers between academia and the community.”

The Itsotseng Psychology Clinic, run by the Department of Psychology of the University of Pretoria, for example, assists parents with children at risk of failing or dropping out, through counselling services for both. The Mae Jemison Science Reading Library, a USA embassy initiative, exposes learners in the community to career fields and individuals working in the sciences. Committed Artists for Cultural Advancement allows them to explore their musical talent and personal creativity in a safe and supportive environment.

Mekidela Belay, the PUA programme coordinator, says that one of the broader goals of the PUA Saturday programme is to bridge the gap between secondary schools and tertiary institutions through fostering conceptual understanding of learners in science and mathematics subjects, besides enhancing their personal skills to be independent learners who can use scientific skills in their day-to-day life.

“It is very fulfilling to do this work. We are building the next generation and as they build their self-esteem they know: ‘I can do this. I have hope and goals. I have the opportunity to develop myself.’ It is truly awesome to see and do this,” Belay said.

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