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Agents of Change - Bridging the education gap

 The Big Issue South Africa 09 July 2019

The widening gap between the education standard at public schools and private institutions in South Africa is worrying. A Cape Town-based organisation tries to turn the tide by offering disadvantaged youngsters after school tutoring and career guidance. (1192 Words) - By Tarryn Brien

Big Issue Scotland

High school is a trying time where discovering who you are and what you want to achieve in life is a hard task in itself. And then there's the added pressure to maintain decent grades to compete for scarce spots at universities and in a tough job market.

For many teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds, these challenges are made tougher by the widening gap between the standard of education offered at under-resourced public high schools compared to private - or partly private - institutions, where individual attention and guidance is the norm.

So how can these teens gain a fair footing to compete on a level playing field with their more privileged peers? Enter IkamvaYouth, a Cape Town-based NGO that strives to bridge the education gap by offering after-school tutoring and career guidance. We met up with Joy Olivier, IkamvaYouth's co-founder and executive director, to find out how this organisation is being an "agent of change".

"IkamvaYouth was developed in 2003. I was working in the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) with a friend of mine, Makhosi Gogwana. Our research was based on science, technology and innovation and how that drives the economy. Part of our research involved looking at the black matriculants coming out of high school with regard to maths and science. The statistics around the numbers of black youth with higher grade maths was just shocking."

"I knew the situation was bad, I just hadn't realised it was that bad. Makhosi had attended a school in Khayelitsha. We compared our educational experiences and the difference between our paths came down to the fact that I was privileged and received a lot of information and support around how to access tertiary education. I had access to information surrounding financial aid and all of those things, whereas Makhosi didn't have anyone around him to help him with those decisions. He ended up registering for a BA, not knowing what a BA is and through sheer tenacity had managed to get into the same job that I had landed relatively easily due to my powerful educational past."

"Hearing his story made it real for me. The inequalities in access to education are real and these inequalities sabotage youth in this country. Information and support are free to give. So we called up the principal of Makhosi's old school and started tutoring there on Saturdays, and encouraged our friends to join us."

"We had no grand plan, we didn't have a plan at all really. We just wanted to tutor on Saturdays. The reason for our growth over the years is a result of our amazing volunteers. It's a completely volunteer-driven organisation and because the learners are incredibly hardworking right from the beginning, the organisation is successful."

"The volunteers are mostly university students. We get loads of international interns but most of the volunteers are made up of people who used to be learners in the programme, who have managed to get into university and then become tutors. At our first branch, that was started in Khayelitsha, 70% of the committee are made up of people who used to be learners in the programme."

"The name IkamvaYouth was derived from our original full name Ikamva Lisezandleni Zethu, which means 'the future is in our hands'. Our mission is to enable people from disadvantaged schools to access higher education. We want to enable township youth to lift themselves up out of poverty and into university."

"We are achieving it. We have unprecedented results - since 2005 we maintained a 95% pass rate. We also track access into tertiary education. We've had years where more than 90% of our learners are at some kind of university or in learnership programmes and employment.

There are five programmes, the core of which is the tutoring programme. We work with the same learners from grade 9 through to grade 12 using small group tutoring with volunteers. The learners are responsible for identifying the gaps in their knowledge and where they need help. They then receive individual attention in those little groups. This takes place three times a week."

"Then we've got career guidance, which is basically an awareness programme filled with lots of different workshops, excursions, career indabas and various things to broaden the learners' awareness of the different career opportunities out there."

"The mentoring programme is for grade 12 learners. Each learner is paired with a mentor that can help navigate the transition in terms of applying for tertiary education, filling out financial aid forms, and so on. We also have computer literacy where we set up computer labs or run open sourced labs, just to cover basic computer literacy for grade 10 and 11 learners so they are sorted when they go to university. And our HIV testing and counselling programme is there to make sure our learners are managing their health. They are encouraged to know their status so that if they are infected with the virus, they can manage it and it does not sabotage their future."

"Although our focus is on academic tutoring, we dedicate afternoons to doing fun stuff like yoga, soccer, photography, dancing and excursions. We also have another little programme which is the media, image and expression programme. The learners are encouraged to express themselves and have fun."

"To become an Ikamvanite, one of our learners, you have to join in grade 9, 10 or 11. It's on a first come, first serve, basis and learners are required to write a motivation as to why they want to join. We do not look at grammar or marks, we just want to see that motivation and commitment. We take on 150 learners for each branch and we're really strict when it comes to attendance."

"We have an incentive structure for attendance which is the core to our model and works really well. Part of this incentive is that those who attend between 70 and 85% are called green Ikamvanites. Between 80 and 90 are silver, and those that have between 90 and 100% attendance are called gold Ikamvanites."

"The gold Ikamvanites are given special privileges. Their application and registration fees for tertiary education are paid. They go on lots of excursions like to the movies, aquarium, theatre and whatever opportunities come up. We do also have opportunities where everyone can partake."

"We are a low cost, high impact model. For the first two years of our existence we ran on no money at all. It was basically volunteers making it happen as well as strategic partnerships. We have received a lot of in-kind donations. Now that we are growing we need a bit more to accommodate all the learners. Most of our branches only have one paid person and they are not getting paid nearly as much as they could be getting somewhere else."

"We are trying to set up a national structure and do some fundraising so we can pay people properly. We are searching for longer term strategic partners who can give us sizable funding over a few years. We have many plans for the future and we want to get to a point where the organisation can be open to everyone who wants to join."

"IkamveYouth has made a huge impact in the lives of these young people. The main thing learners get is confidence. The self esteem they get from improving and receiving positive affirmation is marvellous. They become role models to other learners."

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Originally published by The Big Issue South Africa. ©