Challenges and Opportunities for Transitioning from High School to Tertiary: The South African Experience

The beginning of 2017 saw Afrika Tikkun, a leading Non-Governmental Organisation in South Africa celebrate yet another year of great matric results, with a 98% pass rate of its beneficiaries, up from 94% in 2015. A large majority of our Grade 12 Learners finished with a total of 64 distinctions and 158 tertiary acceptances. Facing tremendous odds, students like Yandisa Mtsewu have every reason to be proud. She earned a Bachelor pass (meaning she is eligible to be accepted into a Bachelor’s Degree at University) and 5 distinctions in English, Mathematics, Geography, Life Sciences, and Physical Sciences.

In South Africa, 3.4 million young people don’t have jobs, aren’t in school and aren’t getting a proper education. With no income or education they are likely to be poor and unemployed for the rest of their lives. They are vulnerable to social ills including substance abuse, crime and gangsterism – which is rife in the townships. If they have children, they will not be able to support them fully.

According to the Department of Basic Education, only 10% of children who start school end up matriculating, with the dropout rate in Grade 10 currently at 44.6%. Critical to any intervention that wishes to make an impact in alleviating poverty and youth unemployment in South Africa therefore is support of the child throughout their school career.

Afrika Tikkun’s cradle to career model supports the child’s holistic development and education from early infancy through our Early Childhood Development Programme, throughout their school career, and up until the time they can be placed in work. In South Africa, faced with a unique set of challenges and exigencies, this commitment to the full lifespan of the youth is the best and most reasonable solution.

Particular attention is given to young people during their secondary school years – working in schools and from its 5 Centres of Excellence in Johannesburg and Cape Town, learners are given career guidance, taught study skills and learning skills, and counselled with resources about paths that can be followed in pursuit of chosen career paths.

Afrika Tikkun believes that every young person deserves the opportunity to be the best that they can be –meaning they ultimately find work they can thrive and be productive in. its main programme targeted at school going children after-school provides a series of activities that enhance the young person not only in terms of academic support but in the total development of the individual. Regular attendance of the over 5000 registered beneficiaries empowers young people to make positive life, learning and career choices, and the ability to take responsibility for their own lives. Through tutoring, mentoring, access to the library, the internet and computers, young people are motivated to improve their academics and end up completing matric (or an alternative pathway). They are developed into leaders and active citizens.

Through many of these programmes, Afrika Tikkun develops young people into active citizens, the leaders of tomorrow and lifelong learners who through the pursuit of innovation and creativity are poised to lead in their chosen career paths.

Beneficiaries in all the programmes are also supported holistically – meaning that every beneficiary receives nutritional support, social support and also primary health care support at some of our Centres.

The libraries at some of Afrika Tikkun’s Community Centers often host camps for Grade 12s (matric year). The camp serve as an opportunity for the young people to get enough time to study. Many young people share a one room shack with their parents and their siblings, others stay next to a tavern or sheeben, and others come from abusive families or environments where there is little or no infrastructure that support learning including electricity. Camps enable them to have a safe learning and study environment in what would be one of the most important years in their developmental history. The impact of holding the camp saw our Grade 12 results and University acceptances  improve drastically ( by 60%) in one center enabling beneficiaries  to become eligible for further education and training.

Since the first camp, the libraries have extended their operational hours, and ensured learners are fed and safely returned home after studying. In the words of our Diepsloot Community Center librarian Cate Masetla, “I want the learners to do well, which is why I have no issues with going home late as long as I know they got what they came to the centre for – to study in a safe and quiet environment”.

It has become a mission for Afrika Tikkun to support every beneficiary registered in its Centres in the townships of Alexandra, inner-city, Diepsloot and Orange farm in Gauteng as well as Mfuleni in the Western Cape. Particular emphasis is given to Grade 9, when subject choices are made, and Grade 11, who benefit from a special Saturday School offering Maths, English Accounting and Sciences. Matriculants from our Diepsloot Center also receive support from the American International School of Johannesburg (AISJ) where they have access to the Physical Science Laboratory.  This is an invaluable resource that they would otherwise not have.

Beyond the exams, librarians follow up with the learners to see if they are in tertiary institutions and offer the needed support with regards to bursaries, learnerships and opportunities. Graduates are often invited back to the centre to motivate the next generation of matriculants. One such person is Kegomoditswe. Coming from a single parent family and a household without income, she was determined to excel and visited our library ever day during matric. At the end of the year she received 5 distinctions. Thanks to the guidance and support of the librarian, she was awarded a full scholarship to study Mechatronic Engineering at the University of Cape Town.

Alice Maimela 18, was born in Limpopo and moved to Diepsloot to live with her mother and 2 siblings. During her high school years, Alice used the library and attended Saturday school. In September, while writing her Grade 12 prelims, Alice lost her mother, her only parent to a fight against an illness. While a heartbroken Alice couldn’t face continuing, she found comfort in her friends and Afrika Tikkun’s library mentor, Cate Masetla. She went on to pass her matric with 4 Distinctions. “Afrika Tikkun helped me cope with losing my mother, I couldn’t study at home because everything reminded me of my mother, and she used to be very loud so studying in a quiet house reminded me of the gap she left”. With her great matric results, but unable to afford the fees, Alice wishes to study Law in 2018. Currently, she is giving back to her school as a student teacher and encouraging this year’s batch of matriculants at Afrika Tikkun.

Tertiary study costs are prohibitive for many of our beneficiaries, and many fail to apply or are forced to drop out. After school, our Youth Skills Development and Placement (YSDP) programme provides career guidance, job readiness training, job placement and bursaries for further learning. This is targeted at young adults with a matric or equivalent between the ages of 19-35yrs (although the primary focus is youth from 19-25yrs). This course has seen beneficiaries like Alice prepared for the world of work. This programme also places young people in entry-level work and learnership opportunities. To date 607 beneficiaries have been placed in learnerships, internships and entry-level jobs. Those who haven’t been placed are currently going through interviews to determine appropriate job placements.

Onyi Nwaneri

Director: Strategy, Partnerships and Communications