A group of Western Cape academics and professionals have come together to celebrate and support top-achieving high school learners in South African township schools, starting at Fezeka High School in Gugulethu. What motivates them? An understanding of the challenges that higher education in Africa faces, and the consciousness that knowledge is a powerful vehicle of change to fulfil Africa's developmental agenda, group member Assoc Prof Collet Dandara explains.
Made up of academics from UCT, the University of Stellenbosch and the Cape Peninsula University of Science and Technology (CPUT) as well as professionals from around the Cape Town metropole, the group aims to identify high achievers in grade 10 and support them through to grade 12 with regular mentorship, uniforms and monetary prizes. Prize-winners will also receive extra tuition in chosen subject areas and regular follow-up sessions through a synchronised student-run initiative, Dikakapa-Everyday Heroes.
"The group's commitment is to help learners achieve the results that will ensure they have access to institutes of higher learning," Dandara explains.
The inaugural prize-giving event for best academic achievers at Fezeka High School, in the heart of Gugulethu, happened in February 2015. Associate Professors Ambroise Wonkam, Collet Dandara (both in the Division of Human Genetics at UCT), Ikechi Okpechi (UCT's Division of Acute General Medicine), and Dr Esau Ticha Muluh (from CPUT's Faculty of Engineering) represented the group and presided over the prize-giving ceremony, where they gave short motivational speeches before handing out the day's prizes: full school uniforms (shoes, trousers, shirts, and jerseys) and monetary incentives (R1 500, R1 000 and R700 for the first-, second- and third-placed learners). In closing, Okpechi encouraged all learners to work hard – especially those who had not received prizes this time around.
"It is hoped that our interaction with the school and learners will motivate them to achieve and perhaps even aspire to a career in higher learning," explains Dandara. "Having positive role models at a secondary school level is critical, especially for youth from disadvantaged backgrounds. We want to seed a passion for knowledge."
Award-winning learners in the middle (from left): Luxolo Marashula (with school tie and white shirt), Anathi Mlelengwana, and Luvo Mazokwana. Members of the group who contributed to the prizes but could not attend due to work commitments include: Prof Andre Kengne (Medical Research Council), Prof Charles Wiysonge (Stellenbosch), Mr Tafirenyika Madzimbamuto (CPUT), Dr Denis Chopera (UCT), Prof Mpiko Ntsekhe (UCT), Dr Richard Mundembe (CPUT), Assoc Prof Shadreck Chirikure (UCT). Dr MS Shey (Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation); Dr Remi Abadeniyi (Stellenbosch), Dr Chima Ofoegbu (UCT), Dr Venant Tchokonte-Nana (Stellenbosch), and Dr Wallace Chuma (UCT).
If you're a Western Cape academic or professional who would like to be involved in seeding a passion for knowledge among local learners, contact Collet Dandara.
Story by staff writer. Photos supplied.
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