The SIOC Community Development Trust partnered with Stellenbosch University to select and sponsor the candidates. Picture: Facebook
The SIOC Community Development Trust partnered with Stellenbosch University to select and sponsor the candidates. Picture: Facebook

SciMathUS programme still giving educationally disadvantaged learners a chance to shine

By OWN Correspondent Time of article published Apr 15, 2021

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Cape Town – Twenty years since its inception, the Science and Mathematics at University of Stellenbosch (SciMathUS) programme continues to provide a second opportunity for educationally disadvantaged learners to enter higher education studies in mathematics, science and commerce-related fields.

The 2020 cohort consisted of 21 candidates from the John Taolo Gaetsewe District Municipality and Tsantsabane Local Municipality in the Northern Cape. The selection included four post-matric learners from Thabazimbi in the Limpopo province.

The SIOC Community Development Trust (SIOC-CDT) partnered with Stellenbosch University to select and sponsor the candidates.

The 2020 winner, Thabo Mthombeni from Limpopo, was ecstatic to have received 91% for mathematics and 98% for physical sciences, as these subjects were both a challenge to him before he entered SciMathUS programme. It was no easy task considering the additional challenges the lockdown presented, but his hard work paid off, with Mthombeni being accepted for a BSc in Human Life Sciences at Stellenbosch University.

Mthombeni said: “When I heard that I scored 91% for mathematics and 98% for physical sciences, I could not believe it. I went into SciMathUS with no idea that I would one day have 91 and 98 percent for subjects I perceived to be difficult, subjects that tormented me throughout high school.”

Nokwanda Siyengo, the SciMathUS programme manager, said: “The good results obtained by our class of 2020 continue to be an inspiration to staff. We find joy when students embrace an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves through hard work and zeal.

’’We are very proud of the class of 2020 that has displayed strength and resilience when the whole world was in fear of the pandemic. They are a true epitome of hope, motivation, and success.’’

Over the past 20 years, 1 696 students have completed the SciMathUS programme. Among its alumni, 348 have obtained degrees at Stellenbosch University between December 2005 and December 2019, and three students have received PhD degrees.

In 2020 (excluding the April 2021 graduation), 30 SciMathUS alumni graduated at SU with a first qualification, and nine with a second qualification.

Mthombeni said: “Taking on this programme during lockdown was hard, but you need to remember why you are there. You are there to do better. So, you have to work better, you have to work harder. Cramming in the last minute does not work.

’’There is a saying that I had to remind myself of when I felt lazy or uninspired: Sacrifice for what you want, otherwise what you want will become the sacrifice. Do not limit yourself.”

SIOC-CDT covered the expenses for 21 of the 100 candidates in respect of accommodation (subject to availability); providing two meals per student per day; providing learning materials and necessary resources; offering psychosocial support to the students through counselling and access to the student counselling centre, and an opportunity to write psychometric tests.

Vusani Malie, CEO of SIOC-CDT, said: “In 2015, it was reported that for every 100 South African pupils that started school in 2003, only 40 successfully progressed to Grade 12 in 2014; 28 passed; and a meagre four qualified for university. Of these, only one would go on to graduate.

’’This means that a very high percentage of South Africa’s out-of-school youth have no educational qualifications. The 4th Industrial Revolution has made it abundantly clear that the jobs of the future are largely concentrated in STEM-related subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

’’We have partnered with Stellenbosch University on the SciMathUS initiative to ensure that the youth in our beneficiary communities are given the opportunity to tackle the future with confidence. Their success within this programme is to be commended. Particularly within the context of the pandemic conditions in 2020.”

The SIOC-CDT 2021 cohort has just been confirmed and 25 students are about to embark on their SciMathUS journey.

Mthombeni added: “At the moment, I am in Huis Visser at the Stellenbosch University and have been accepted for a BSc in Human Life Sciences. I want to be the person who does the research on the way the human body and mind are linked, so that better measures for rehabilitation, care, prevention, cure, can be developed.

’’I want to be part of creating innovative technology to improve product and service provided to the public. I would love to have a role as a leader with interesting and innovative ideas and opinions.”

Malie said: “Mthombeni is a shining example of the success of the SciMathUS programme as well as the commitment of the SIOC-CDT candidates to fulfil their potential. We look forward to seeing the 2021 cohort begin their journey.”

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