“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” - Nelson Mandela
There is no doubt that our late president understood that education can lift anyone to greater heights, irrespective of where you were born or the circumstances that you're confronted with.
Our national budget serves the greatest slice of the public purse to the education sector; it is also clear that this significant investment over the last two decades still needs to be maximized. Many thousands of educators are diligently making their contribution to the cause; so too many NGOs and programmes offered by HEIs.
One of these HEI programmes that is delivering on its mandate is that of the University of Stellenbosch, in the form of the HOPE@Maties initiative. So what is the initiative about?
The primary aim of the HOPE@Maties University Preparation Programme is to prepare and support students from disadvantaged communities for university admission by ensuring that they are successful at school, that they successfully enrol for study at a higher education institution, and that the gap from school to university is bridged; thus ensuring access with success.
The Programme is designed to improve access to tertiary study through a free Grade12 subject tutelage and career guidance programme. Qualified and experienced educators are contracted to tutor learners in core (‘gateway’) subjects such as Mathematics, Life and Physical Sciences, and Accounting. Students are also exposed to various study options at Stellenbosch University; and career options that correspond to their subjects. This is in support of the aim to broaden access for individuals from designated groups into Stellenbosch University.
The initiative commenced in 2009, when it was rolled out as the “Diversity Programme for Prospective BEd Students” in the Faculty of Education. In 2011, it expanded with the incorporation of the Mitchell’s Plain cohort, and became known as “Maties on the Plain”. The Programme was officially launched under the HOPE@Maties banner in 2012.
Through HOPE@Maties an attempt is made to counter the disadvantages that learners face (such as lack of rigorous curriculum, poorly trained teachers and a lack of role models) by adding missing elements that will aid their achievement at school, thus enabling them to successfully apply for university study. This is done by nurturing relationships with key role-players such as education districts, principals, educators, parents and other role-players.
In discussion with some of the programme managers, it is clear that the initiative is not only retaining participants but also getting more than 80% of them to successfully compete their first degrees. This is remarkable given the challenges of sustaining participant interest in the face of overwhelming odds in certain environments. The initiative is also clearly showing what is achievable if we concentrate support in a purposeful way, run the plan without compromising on participant responsibility and nurture our young people by ensuring safety nets are in place should one of them backtrack. Now that HOPE@Maties has provided clear evidence of what's possible, my question is simply: What's stopping the rest of us?