We took the opportunity to catch up with our bursary students last weekend. Most of them were back in Masiphumelele for the break between the academic semesters. Fortunately it has been a trouble free period on campus at all universities in the Western Cape and good academic progress is being made. The teaching has been fairly intensive, with some catching up from modules that were only partially completed last academic year due to the Fees Must Fall demonstrations.
This event was mostly a social get-together, with the students appreciating the cooking from the bursary team and another wonderful cake from Nonny’s Bakery.
We also thank the mentors for attending and some of them also donated files and other materials to support the students. In particular we thank the Pack for a Purpose project for providing each student with a flash drive on which they can back up their studies.
Not all students could attend due to winter school and in-service training commitments. We received the following message from Zintle Magazi who is currently in Leuven, Belgium doing two courses in “European policies and politics” as well as ” Social immigration issues”. This is a summer school and is part of her course in International Studies.
The summer school has been a lot of fun thus far even though we have very long days. My normal day at KU Leuven University starts at 9 am and finishes at 6 pm, sometimes 7 or even 8 pm. Each lecture is about two hours long and very information-packed and comprehensive. I believe I know a lot more about Europe now and I’m interested to see how the European Union will deal with the competition from new rising world powers.
There are eight of us here from Stellenbosch University and we are amongst students from everywhere; some from Russia, China, Italy, Cameroon, Romania, Spain and the Netherlands. It’s so interesting hanging out with all of them and learning about each other’s ways of life through casual conversations or even joking with one another. It really is a blessing to be here and it is motivating me to keep working hard at school so that I can study my postgraduate studies in Germany.
It is now back to campus and for some students in-service training as their courses come to completion. Our continued thanks to all the sponsors and mentors that assist us in making this programme possible.
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.
Starting any higher education course is a massive step up from learning at high school. The course material becomes more challenging and you are expected to become more independent in researching information rather than being directed by a teacher. At the same time students are learning to live on their own away from the close circle of family and friends they have known all their lives. It is inevitable that homesickness will kick in at some point and conquering it is just one challenge that our bursary students have had to tackle.
Masicorp goes to great lengths to ensure that all bursary students are well housed for their studies. Although the centre of Cape Town is only 40 km from Masiphumelele the public transport connections are not good and the ever increasing price of petrol has seen bus and minibus taxi fares spiral in recent times. Most students manage to make it back home once or twice a month but it can be a long journey, involving a combination of minibuses and metrorail trains. The convoluted journey offers the reward of a chance to catch up with friends from schooldays, many of whom are now working, or looking for work, in the shops and businesses around the peninsula. It offers a good chance to make contacts for part time work when the university term comes to an end. Although many of Masiphumelele’s residents head off to the Eastern Cape over the summer holidays, the break is a time to earn much needed funds to support the student lifestyle. Already Avile is looking forward to cooking hamburgers again and Ntebuheleng has an offer to work at the Food Lovers Market in the local mall.
The days away from home are spent studying but of course there needs to be time to unwind. Thanks to the high quality internet in the university residences where Avile, Aluncedo and Andisiwe stay, gathering around a laptop to stream the latest movies is a possibility. All students share a room with another student so they have the opportunity to make new friends straight away. However, it is not always possible for Masicorp to secure rooms at the residence and for Zodwa and Ntebuheleng life is a little different in a private house. They share with four other girls and have quickly established a cooking rota to pool their skills (and money) in the communal kitchen.
Sadly it is not always such a pleasant experience. Zodwa and a friend were held up at knifepoint when returning home one evening and their phones were stolen. Fortunately the traumatic experience does not seem to have discouraged her from continuing her studies but has been yet another challenge to overcome in that difficult first semester away from home. Everyone is coping well with the changes in their life over the past six months and all the students were raring to go back to the city to continue their studies when we spoke this week. It is not just academic ability but also attitude that makes a success of higher education and fortunately it seem this year’s students have made an excellent transition to life away from home.