By TOTO TSARNEBA
Dozens of Makhanda-based first-year students gathered for a traditional photo opportunity with Vice-Chancellor Dr Sizwe Mabizela under Rhodes University’s clock tower on Tuesday, 1 March.
The students were a mix of recent Gadra Matric School (GMS) graduates and former mentees of the Rhodes University Community Engagement’s (RUCE) 9/10th mentoring programme.
According to GMS Principal Tim Hacksley, Dr Mabizela “takes a special interest in local students having access to the university”.
“To paraphrase his sentiments, ‘Rhodes does not just exist in Makhanda but for Makhanda’. The bridging programmes came about largely due to the dialogue between him and Dr Ashley Westaway, the manager of Gadra Education,” Hacksley said.
It has become an annual tradition for Dr Mabizela to personally welcome first-year students who have a background with GMS or 9/10ths.
“These occasions provide a wonderful photo opportunity and media exposure for the fruits of Rhodes and Gadra’s strategic partnerships,” Hacksley said.
“The advantages of our partnerships with Rhodes are patently clear and highly beneficial to the youth of Makhanda: high numbers of local students, the bulk of whom come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, are afforded tuition and mentoring to assist them in achieving entry into Rhodes.”
Since 1994, the Gadra Matric School has provided over 3 000 young adults – primarily from Makhanda and surrounding areas but also including the length and breadth of South Africa – with the opportunity to upgrade their matric results while receiving first-rate tuition from highly qualified and dedicated teachers.
In 2021, GMS enrolled 211 students. Of these, 156 obtained Bachelor level passes – and many of them have gone on to enrol at Rhodes in 2022. It has become a top-end bridging school and has been the primary feeder school for Rhodes University for some years.
At the same time, Rhodes University Community Engagement’s (RUCE) 9/10th mentoring programme is offered to a sizable number of Grade 12 learners every year across Ntsika, Nombulelo, Mary Waters and Khutliso Daniels high schools. This carefully structured programme focuses on areas of aptitude that have a direct bearing on academic performance in the final examinations. These include personal planning (aspiration and ambition), study skills (focusing on summarising) and submitting tertiary applications.
Mentoring services are delivered voluntarily by carefully selected and thoroughly trained Rhodes students. 9/10ths’ impact was evidenced by Makhanda’s record pass rate of 83% in 2021, consolidating its position as the leading education city in the province.
In his impromptu address to the students, Dr Mabizela encouraged students to work hard on their studies love and encourage each other.
“If you need any help, shout out; you can’t just keep quiet; there’s plenty of help available. My office is always open to GMS and 9/10ths graduates.”
“You don’t have to make an appointment,” he quipped.
Former Mary Waters High School learner Usisipho Nqinana was grateful for her support through 9/10ths. She said she was assisted with her application to Rhodes University – and one of her privileges was that she didn’t even pay the R100 application fee.
“Everything was provided, the support and hot tips from my mentor – I was encouraged and guided in the right direction,” she said with a smile.
Amanda Kosi and Akha Dial from Ntsika High School and Avuyile “Vinny” Mthana from Nombulelo Secondary School said we were given SD cards containing learner support materials for all their subjects.
“We would like to see sponsors coming forward and helping to grow the SD card initiative to help improve the level of education in our province Eastern Cape,” Amanda said.
Akha said she was assisted with registration money and saving her residence space through the help of GMS when she was waiting for NSFAS to respond to her application.
GMS’s Hacksley said some GMS students with existing bachelor-level passes and sufficient admission points are also be enrolled in a bridging programme, which typically sees them upgrading one or two of their NSC subjects while simultaneously completing one or two first-year courses at Rhodes (like Psychology 1, Politics 1, Cell Biology 1).
He said the vision of the matric school was to provide matric leavers with the means to achieve entry into meaningful courses of study at South Africa’s universities.
“For many years now, we have been the largest’ feeder school’ for Rhodes, and our alumni have a very high success rate in terms of numbers eventually graduating from Rhodes and other universities.”