Students are struggling and many of them are dropping out. Between 50% to 60% of those who were going to drop out anyway drop out in the first year. This percentage is too high because once we lose them; there we will never get them back.
This is according to Dr André van Zyl, Director of the Academic Development Centre (ADC) at the
University of Johannesburg (UJ) during his address at the DUT Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) First Year Student Experience Workshop. The workshop gave an insight to the various struggles first year students endure which often lead to them dropping out of their studies.
During 2009, Dr van Zyl was involved in conceptualising and initiating the UJ First year Experience (FYE) initiative. He co-ordinated the implementation of this project until September 2012 when he became the Director of the ADC. He is also intimately involved in setting up the South African National Resource Centre for the FYE. Dr van Zyl’s research interests focus on the first year student in the South African higher education environment and the interface between the students and the institutional environment. He completed his PhD in 2010 researching the relationship between various pre-entry attributes and student academic success.
A select number of lecturers, tutors and students were hosted at the Coastlands Hotel in Musgrave on Wednesday this week, 8 April 2015, for the workshop.
Dr van Zyl said the South African education system has a long way to go in comparison to other countries. “We have space (in higher education) for 18% of people leaving school. Our National Development Plan has two goals stated; 25% to 30% which is where we want to get to. At the moment, the top 18% that we are taking in are doing badly,” he said.
Although university students are statistically said to be underperforming, van Zyl does admit that improvement is subject to a collaborative effort between the university and its students. “We are not blaming them (students) only. As a system, we have a bit of navel gazing to do. It requires an intentional structure, which means we’ll have to put structures in place that are proactive and systematic in nature,” he said.
DUT’s CELT Director, Professor Thengani Ngwenya, unveiled the University’s vision and strategy for its very own First Year Student Experience initiative which ultimately aims to provide sustained and systematic support and development to all undergraduate students in order to improve their success. “The First Year Student Experience is about reducing dropout rates and increasing pass rates. We also want this to be a collaborative effort involving selected departments in the support sector and academic sectors. It (the First Year Student Experience) will be data driven. We will make decisions based on the data collected on particular issues. It’s going to be research and theory based as well,” said Prof Ngwenya.
He said programme would be implemented by setting up an Advisory Committee which will meet forth nightly for seminars.
– Thobele Nzama
Pictured from left: Professor Thengani Ngwenya, DUT CELT Director; Dr Andre’ van Zyl, Director of the Academic Development Centre (ADC) at UJ and Professor Livingstone Makondo, Associate Professor at CELT.