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Student Support in Health Sciences

- Wits University

The multi-lingual Dr Constance Khupe is ideally positioned to help Wits students from rural South Africa adapt to university life and succeed.

The benefits of learning in one’s home language have long been recognised as invaluable in promoting learner success. At school level, children in South Africa have the opportunity to learn in their mother tongue. However, students are plunged into a world of English once they enter university. This is one of the challenges faced by academically talented students from backgrounds with limited exposure to English.

Khupe is a lecturer and At Risk Coordinator in the Office of Student Support in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits. She and her colleagues help students who are thrust into a ‘foreign’ world to adjust. She is the recipient of two awards from the Wits Medical Students Council in recognition of her work to promote student success.

“The National Benchmarking Test administered to applicants in the Faculty is an important tool to identify students in need of support,” says Khupe, who speaks Shona, Ndebele, Kalanga, isiZulu and English. She thinks that one way in which we can be a student-ready university is to help students get better at English language and academic literacy, while at the same time drawing on their proficiency in their home languages – which for many could be the language of thought. 

Khupe is proposes the accommodation of mother tongue for learning in higher education to facilitate student success. She believes that the Wits Language Policy is a step in the right direction, as it seeks to entrench multilingualism in the University and facilitate the training of multi-lingual professionals who will adequately serve the country’s diverse population.

“However, I believe that the policy needs to have concrete time frames to move it from commitment on paper, to reality,” says Khupe.

Recently, she participated in an International Symposium for Innovation in Rural Education, hosted by Montana State University. The only delegate from Africa, Khupe was part of a panel that discussed various perspectives of Educating for Sustainability in Remote Locations. Some of her thoughts were captured in the Billings Gazette of August 4, 2018.

This is a continuation of her passions –advancing student success and empowering teachers. An educator through and through, Khupe led a teaching department at the Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo Polytechnic prior to joining Wits as a PhD student in 2008. She worked with both pre-service and in-service teachers at Wits School of Education (WSOE), and in 2012 did research for a school improvement project jointly initiated by the Heads of Schools of APES and WSOE. In 2014, she earned a PhD with her thesis Indigenous Knowledge and School Science: Possibilities for Integration