No Band-Aid approach to education

By Lesedi Ntuli

Being passionate about the work you do is more than the old adage ‘do what you love’.  It is waking up in the morning and looking forward to the day ahead.

First year coordinator and Academic Development lecturer, Joyce Sewry, emphasises that she loves her work – both assisting students and community engagement – despite the frustrations she encounters. “My academic interests are in the field of Chemometrics and Chemical Education, but I must admit a lot of my time is spent on community engagement,” she says.

While the Rhodes Chemistry department has been active in community engagement, Sewry has been the key person driving this engagement and giving students opportunities to contribute towards improving science education in Grahamstown and in the Eastern Cape. Sewry established the Khanya Maths and Science Club in 2000, which she runs with help of Dr Ken Ngcoza, the staff and volunteer students from the Chemistry Department.

Asked what inspired the name ‘Khanya’, Sewry explains that it was about “shining a light on the relevance of education. Khanya means light in Xhosa. It was decided on at the inaugural meeting with stakeholders including township teachers, the Albany museum, Rhodes University and other interested parties back in 1999,” she says.

Sewry says the club is aimed at instilling a love for Science and Maths, but also at helping learners with curriculum-based Mathematics. “We recently decided to introduce a formal revision programme for matriculants because there has been very little help for learners from township schools. This programme is, however, much more formal than the Khanya Club lessons are, and we have extended it to Accounting,” she says.

With the help of student volunteers, the club has also extended to helping learners with subjects such as Mathematical Literacy, Geography and Life Sciences. “I am in awe of these volunteers. It is amazing to see how they can relate to the learners far better than university lecturers” she says, smiling.

Although Mathematics is often seen as a daunting, theory-filled subject, with little relevance to the real world, Sewry adds that the learners have shown interest in it and are enjoying themselves. “Despite the fact that we have not implemented any formal teaching methods, student volunteers are doing exceptionally well in assisting the learners. Significant secondary learning is taking place for these matrics; for example, coming on to a university campus and having classes in a university lecture hall,” she says.

While setting up the club involved minimal cost, funding has not been a problem for Sewry as the club has been receiving funding from Professor Tebello Nyokong in the Chemistry Department and occasionally from Grahamstown Round Table. “These funds cover a few textbooks, photocopies, prize-giving and an outing a year for the club members. Expenses for the matric revision programme are carried by the Community Engagement office, which covers the refreshments, printing, textbooks and some transport,” she says.

Sewry says her eternal wish is that none of this would be necessary – that education in schools would be good and if need be the teachers would seek help. “This would be the sustainable model. A band-aid approach for matrics is not the answer, at all but this is all we can manage. And we definitely could not do it without student volunteers,” she says.

 

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