Last weekend we held our annual bursary student mentor workshop at the new Masicorp offices at Chasmay Road campus. This event is an opportunity for the mentors to meet each other and share experiences as well as tips for good practice. This year’s event was also the first opportunity for some of the mentors to meet our new programme manager Louise de Waal who only recently joined the team.
Our thanks to everyone who gave up a couple of hours of their Saturday morning for what was a well attended event, with the majority of our 21 active mentors able to attend. The meeting was used to explain our plans for the future of the programme and to present a policy for how best to maximise the benefits of our donors funding to meet each students needs. We deliberately keep the bursary flexible because each student has different needs for their individual courses (e.g., laboratory clothing, extra books, field work etc.). The meeting allowed us to explain to the mentors their roles in assessing their student’s needs and feeding the information back to us.
The role of the mentors is not just to help us to administer the bursary, but is also crucial to the student’s chances of success. One of the reasons for the high drop-out rate among South African students is the culture shock and isolation they often feel when being away from home life and the structured learning environment of school. Our students from Masiphumelele are often the best in the class at the high school, but soon find that they are just one of the crowd in the large first year classes at university. Failure in any subject at this point can be a devastating blow. Our mentors play a crucial role in befriending students and guiding them through this difficult transition, and this is one of the reasons that we have managed to attain a drop-out rate of less than 10%. It is particularly beneficial for us to have our more experienced mentors present to guide and inform the new mentors who are stepping into this role for the first time.
This year has been enormously challenging with the continued student protests on campus, particularly at CPUT. We have a mix of students taking exams on campus or online from home. Some teaching has been cancelled and some exams will be postponed until next year. Some students have had to travel back and forth between Masiphumelele and campus as the security situation has fluctuated. It is a very difficult time for everyone involved and we cannot thank our invaluable team of mentors enough for their flexibility in responding to the needs of the students in another difficult academic year.