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Students empower others

- By Buhle Zuma

Running a programme that deals with adolescents is never an easy task – as this period is marked by social, intellectual, and personal development, bringing with it its own set of dynamics and challenges.  It’s a period of search and discovery; and attitudes and values shift as if in orbit.

Now just imagine the task that Targeting Talent Programme (TTP) coordinators are faced with, running an academic programme for high school learners from different parts of South Africa and having to keep the group functioning as one unit at the same time.

More than 1000 learners in Grades 10 to 12 take part in the Residential Academic Enrichment Camp at Wits hosted as part of the TTP. Held over two weeks during the June/July holidays, the in-house camp can potentially expose contrasts in South African society. However, the contribution of Wits student volunteers, known as the Residential Assistants (RAs) makes all the difference to this programme in managing and supporting the diverse youths of marginalised and privileged background, from rural and urban origin.

TTP held an appreciation lunch for its volunteers who are the backbone of the programme. As resident assistants, the volunteers act as mentors who motivate and support the learners.

Professor Andrew Crouch, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Academic and Vice-Principal of Wits University, thanked the students for their invaluable contribution to the programme.

“You make it an enriching experience for the learners,” he said to the students.

Crouch said that he was also impressed with the personal and professional growth that he had witnessed in the students proving that an investment in others is an investment in oneself.

Ntebogeng Kgokong who describes herself as a veteran TTP resident assistant, says most people don’t believe that she was once afraid to speak in public.  

Barely visible behind the podium, the short but self-assured Kgokong said:  “The learners helped me to find my voice. Having to stand in front of tall and very loud Grade 11 learners can quickly build your confidence.” 

Kgokong, a masters student in the Forensic Medicine and Pathology Division, described the camaraderie that she had found in fellow resident assistants and the positive pressure to study hard.

Dr Pamela Dube, the Wits Dean of Students, emphasised the unique role played by students.

“You are the champions in getting learners interested in higher education because they see your exemplary behaviour,” she said. 

“As the closest age group to the learners, you make or break the programme,” continued Dube.

“How you present yourselves and engage with the learners is reflective of the programme and Wits as custodians of the programme.”

Crouch said that the students should share in the accolades that have been heaped on TTP, which the University regards as one of its successful access programmes.

TTP has been ranked by BP SA, one of the sponsors, as one of its top 15 programmes worldwide in its corporate social investment basket.

TTP is a pre-university enrichment programme aiming to increase the academic, social and psychological preparation of academically talented learners for admission to and success at South African universities. Its intention is to boost the skills pipeline in the country.

The programme has a high success rate in producing successful matriculants. In 2013, 97% of the matriculants, who participated in the programme, passed matric with admission to a Bachelor’s Degree. Collectively, they achieved 600 distinctions.

The programme is run by the Student Equity and Talent Management Unit at Wits, in partnership with BP SA (Ltd), the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL), the Department of Science and Technology and ABSA.

Resident assistants undergo training in preparation for their duties and form part of a larger support team consisting of peer volunteers from various programmes e.g. Careers and Counselling Development Unit (CCDU), Wits Volunteer Programme (WVP), who ensure that learners reap the most results from the academic programme.

Related stories:

Success for Targeting Talent Porgramme

Targeting Talent, Investing in Excellence, Facilitating Success

Student Equity and Talent Management Unit