From setting up working libraries to helping teachers develop a Code of Conduct for positive discipline – these were among several collaborative school projects highlighted at a recent symposium at COSAT in Khayelitsha. The symposium, hosted by UCT’s Poverty & Inequality Initiative (PII) with the Schools Improvement Initia tive (SII), reflected specifically on work being done by the SII with support from an NRF Community Research Project. It was also the final event at which outgoing vice – chancellor for transformation Professor Crain Soudien officially represented his alma mater before moving on to become head of the HSRC. In his introductory remarks, Soudien stressed that this initiative was a two – way street: “We are not here as voyeurs – peering into other people’s realities.

We are here to learn from each other.” The issue, he said, had always been “how all of that understanding that is there on the mountain” (referring to UCT) could be “brought into a space of the wider community in ways that are accessible and meaningful”. SII project manager Dr Patti Silbert said: “The overriding objective is to contribute towards improving the quality of learning, both at the level of the school and the university. This symposium is an opportunity for us to demonstrate our work in progress.”

Access to opportunity Sketching the background to schooling in Khayelitsha, Dr Jonathan Clark, who heads up the SII, pointed out that the township, which was fir st established in 1983, had a stable school – going population. He quoted sociologist Professor Jeremy Seekings’ description of Khayelitsha as being “a mix of modest prosperity and occasional affluence with widespread poverty of varying severity”. Clark hi ghlighted that the real issue, however, was not so much around access to schooling, as the vast majority of learners in the township were in fact in school, but rather of a problem of access to opportunity. He cited a Western Cape Education Department sta tistic that showed that in the 2014 Matric exams, no more than 50 learners from 20 schools in Khayelitsha had achieved a combined result of 60% or more for mathematics or science – something he termed the “opportunity ticket” for studies in any field in hi gher education, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Panel discussions The symposium saw students, learners, academics, teachers and principals at the six partner schools in the township join panels to talk about their experie nce of work done through the SII. Among the projects that were showcased were:  Working libraries in the SII – partner schools set up with the help of The Bookery and Pinelands Rotary Club, and staffed by library assistants who had previously been unemployed. A process to help primary school teachers develop positive discipline practices against a backdrop of corporal punishment still in use in schools. The 100 – UP programme that helped promising learners access higher education at UCT and elsewhere.

Occupation al therapy students who had worked with parents during their practice learning placements in one of the primary school. The experiences of speech therapy and PGCE student teachers in the partner schools 100 – UP highlights A celebratory moment was when studen ts and learners involved in the 100 – UP initiative joined the gathering to talk about their experiences. 100 – UP is a three – year support programme that focuses on building the academic and life skills of a selected group of 300 Grade 10 – 12 learners, drawn f rom all 20 secondary schools in Khayelitsha. These learners are encouraged to pursue degrees in fields of study at UCT. Project Manager Ferial Parker reported that through 100 – UP, UCT’s enrolment of students from Khayelitsha had nearly tripled from 29 in 2013, to 80 in 2015. Significantly, these students are drawn from 19 out of the 20 schools in the township.

In addition, the first group of 100 – UP students had achieved an 86% pass rate at the end of their first year in 2014. Those who entered UCT moved on to a programme known as 100 – UP Plus run by Career Services in CHED. Among the 100 – UP interventions are residential camps and Saturday classes on campus to help prospective students get a feel for life at UCT, along with help with the application process, including financial and residence applications. Students on the panel, who were studying everything from medicine to mechatronics, talked about their dreams, aspirations and sense of commitment to their community, as well as what being a first – generati on university student meant for them. Said Sinazo Noto, a second – year BComm financial accounting student: “Being the first person in my family to get into university is an achievement … My family supports me in everything.

(My) success means they have c ontributed. It is success for all.” At the end of the day, Clark said of the symposium: “Today’s presentations reveal the extent to which the SII is succeeding in its aim to create opportunities for people from within the university and broader society to collaborate on projects, which will have a meaningful impact on schooling in the community.”

If you would like to contribute to the 100 – UP programme to help the SII to continue to make a difference, please make your donation here .