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DUT Mahlabathini Schools Engagement Programme Launch

DUT Mahlabathini Schools Engagement Programme Launch

In its quest to reach out to the various communities in and around KwaZulu-Natal, the Durban University of Technology (DUT) partnered with the Phakamile Mazibuko Foundation and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education (DoE) in the launch of the DUT Mahlabathini Schools Engagement Programme in Ulundi.

The programme is an initiative of DUT in collaboration with The Phakamile Mazibuko Foundation, a black-female-owned foundation that seeks to uplift the lives of learners, rural schools, and surrounding communities. The foundation was launched in 2020 and has grown in leaps and bounds. According to founder Phakamile Mazibuko, who is from KwaCeza, rural communities are often neglected when it comes to development and various other resources. Her vision when starting this foundation was to bridge the gap and bring development, information, and resources to her community. But more importantly to change the lives of the girl children within her community.

“Our goal is to motivate, uplift, and enhance community engagement academically and to run sustainable programmes in this regard,” explained Mazibuko at the launch.

The DVC for Research Innovation and Engagement, Professor Sibusiso Moyo, could not attend the event but sent a message of support for the programme which was read by Dr Myalo Sabela, Senior Lecturer from the DUT’s Chemistry Department. In the address, Prof Moyo firstly thanked the DUT team and partners that made the event possible. She also acknowledged the Municipal Officials, Principals, Teachers, Learners, DUT Team (Staff, Students, and Alumni), DUT Partners, and the members of the Media who were present on the day.

“We are extremely excited to have the launch of the DUT Mahlabathini Schools Engagement Programme which took place on the 6th of August 2021. August is also the month in which we celebrate both Women’s Day and National Science Week and hence an ideal time to have this Launch. We as DUT value the School Engagement Programme as it allows us to work with our partners- in this case, PMF, the Department of Education, and our Circuit Managers to identify schools where we can collaborate to ensure every student is given a chance to access higher education,” said Prof Moyo.

Prof Moyo also acknowledged that there are many challenges our communities face and said that she hopes the collaboration with the Department of Education, can at least reach out to students in terms of helping them understand what offerings there are at DUT and also help with tutorship in bottleneck subjects, e.g., Mathematics and the Sciences amongst other subjects. She believes that the youth are our future, but the future will look better if we continue to ensure the majority of our youth have access to good education and skills training.

“The Unemployment levels in our Province are huge and even youth with degrees find themselves unemployed. We as DUT are also offering academic skills training in Engineering, Health Sciences, Arts and Design, Accounting and Informatics, Management Sciences, and Applied Sciences. We also are focusing on Entrepreneurship where every student will be expected to take an Entrepreneurship Module to help them identify opportunities and grow their ideas. Those who are keen to start a business are given an opportunity through Innobiz – DUT Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which is being launched in 2021. As a Mathematician myself, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of doing well in maths and the sciences, to get access to the Science and Engineering fields. Hence the importance of the Engagement Programme,” continued Prof Moyo.

Towards the end of the address, Prof Moyo said that for many students, information of what all these fields mean and how to apply to higher education is also a challenge, and hoped that through this engagement – partners can jointly find ways of assisting and making the process more seamless.

“I congratulate DUT, PMF, and the Department of Education for the Launch of the ‘DUT Mahlabathini Schools Engagement Programme’. We do not see this as a once-off programme but would want to see a comprehensive programme that runs right through the year, working with the Schools, DUT, and our partners, like the Centre for the Advancement of Science and Mathematics Education (CASME) and our Alumni to ensure we succeed. Keeping data and information on students assisted and how they progress is important as we can learn from real case studies, concluded Prof Moyo.

DUT’s Community Engagement Practitioner, Phumzile Xulu highlighted the importance of this programme to DUT.

“It is important to DUT that we as an institution of learning are accessible, to all communities, for growth, mentorship, and partnerships. And programmes like these are in line with our ENVISION2030 goals, which lists society and sustainability as one of our cornerstones,” she stressed.

The university had initiated visits to schools in remote areas as early as 2017 where they would often carry out science demonstrations hand-in-hand with the Chemistry Department. However, a gap was identified within the Mahlabathini school’s curriculum especially in the sciences field and this prompted DUT to establish an annual programme that would give more focus to the sciences and chemistry subjects. The university has since held numerous Science Expos for Grade 12 learners, tutorship programmes roping in Alumni and various other stakeholders in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) field. This ongoing relationship with the schools has benefitted not just the schools but the community as a whole.

Speaking at the launch Chief Education Specialist, Mahlabathini CMC, Xoliswa Cele expressed that the relationship between the Mahlabathini CMC and DUT has been beneficial to the learners, the community but more so to the girl child. Cele explained that because of pre-existing stereotypical gender roles and patriarchy which is rife in the area, the girl child is often restricted in her academic aspirations. There is often very little awaiting her post-grade 12. With many being groomed to become wives and are often married off without being allowed to fulfill their academic or career goals, many are found seeking employment soon after completing grade 12, leaving them with a bleak future. She emphasized that the three-fold partnership has motivated learners, to strive for better results and has opened a new window of opportunity. With 174 schools in the area, all situated within impoverished communities, Cele emphasized that education was the only ideal way to improve the quality of life for youth in the area.

“Learners are often boggled down with the socio-economic problems from home, their community and can’t see themselves escaping the poverty and therefore don’t aspire to live a better life. However, with this programme, they see someone, Phakamile, and are able to relate to her, DUT sends us teams who address our learners in languages they understand and can engage in, which alone bridges the barriers existing with this community. When they assist us with the curriculum, in terms of performing science experiments, and bringing science labs to life for many of our learners they open up a wealth of opportunity for them.”

In her speech she explained that if one were to drive around the Mahlabathini area, they would see that the area has vast amounts of bearable land that was underutilized by local communities, which was slowly changing as learners are being exposed to sciences, agricultural sciences information, they are taking that knowledge back to their homes and are attempting to change the challenge of food scarcity.

Cele further explained that because of lack of resources none of the schools in the Zululand District had science labs, internet access, which meant educators could not fully demonstrate some of the practical programmes they taught. So the support from DUT was vital to the teaching programmes.

In closing, Cele pleaded with DUT to further assist the district with a science lab that could be utilized by the schools, with Skills training programmes for educators and a mobile laboratory. She highlighted that educators also needed support with their academic offerings but also their overall well-being.

DUT was applauded by both school principals and Cele for running a sustainable programme, citing that many companies and businesses visit the areas for seasonal programmes, never to return, however, DUT had sustained the relationship, even offering bursaries to well-achieving learners on an ongoing basis.

Pictured: Xoliswa Cele Chief Education Specialist, Mahlabathini CMC, addressing guests at the launch.

Khumbuzile Mbuqe and Phumzile Xulu

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