PROFILE: Jakes Gerwel Fellowship helps to improve the quality of Education in SA 

Through introducing projects that promote teaching as an aspirational career, the Jakes Gerwel Fellowship aims to improve the quality of education in South Africa.  

The Jakes Gerwel Fellowship (JGF) is focusing on improving the poor conditions in public schools across South Africa by introducing uplifting leadership programs and investing in students who have a passion for teaching and education. 

Jakes Gerwel is a fellowship that has been mandated by the then Allan Gray Orbis Foundation since 2017, aiming to improve the education system. JGF hopes to position teaching as an aspirational career for young students to promote an increase in employment of quality teachers in public schools. 

South Africa’s education system has been declining, with young people struggling to read for comprehension. Only 20% of public schools function adequately with a large gap between the final matric results they achieve compared to those of the other 80% of public schools.  

Many of these schools fail due to poor infrastructure, teacher shortages, and a lack of educational progress, resulting in high unemployment rates. “Unemployment amongst the youth in our country is the highest [and] amongst graduates, teachers have the highest unemployment, especially Bed [bachelor of education] graduates,” says JGF fellow Samora Menze. 

JGF hopes to bridge this gap with strategic communications specialist Sarah Koopman telling Wits Vuvuzela that, “The quality of the education system is dependent on the quality of its teachers.” JGF has identified the teacher shortage in South Africa as one of utmost importance for our economy to thrive. 

JGF program participants are selected based off their “expert teacher profile, educational leadership, and educational entrepreneurial skills,” says acting CEO Carla Watson. Wits University is a partner institution of JGF, offering scholarships and bursaries to strong student candidates who are completing their postgraduate certificates of education (PGCE).  

One of the initiatives JGF has chosen to take on is the employment support and work readiness program which began at the end of 2022 and will continue throughout the 2023 year. This project aims to support teachers who are qualified but are not equipped with enough information on how to find employment after graduating. 

This involves helping candidates with their CV, setting up mock interviews to equip them with valuable interview skills, hosting South African Council of Educators (SACE) registration information sessions, and sharing employment opportunities with candidates so they can access teaching positions easier. This program aims to help teachers find employment, taking preference over government school positions by placing teachers in these schools, hoping to “make resources available to maximise JGF’s impact, connecting with organisations that are contributing to address unemployment in the country,” Menze said.  

JGF is also working on other projects such as using theatre to improve reading literacy. A Wits master’s student and JGF fellow, Luna August, co-founded the AK Arts and Leadership program (AKALA) which is a non-profit organization focused on increasing art education throughout South Africa. August’s research focuses on the importance of the arts in education. 

August is hoping to improve literacy rates in the country with over 80% of children in the country struggling to read. August’s research focuses on how drama can help improve student’s reading and listening abilities and vocal acquisition. She goes on to explain how drama in education holds value because it has been recognised as a decolonising pedagogy through embodied drama strategies in classrooms

August explains that by implementing certain drama-education strategies such as role-playing and improvisation, students can benefit from enhanced reading abilities but can also develop their creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. AKALA’s goal is to launch an art centre that is registered with the education department that allows for dialogic theoretical engagement, critical reflexivity, and artistic development through increased learning in the arts disciplines. 

JGF hopes to recruit more fellows from universities throughout South Africa who have a strong passion and love for education and invites the “very best” to teach South Africa’s future generations because all students deserve a “switched-on, compassionate and excellent teacher to help unlock their own potential,” says Watson.  

Students who are choosing to complete their postgraduate certificate of education can apply for the Jakes Gerwel Fellowship online by completing an eligibility quiz and filling in an application form. 

FEATURED IMAGE: The Jakes Gerwel team at a #BeATeacher event in South Africa, promoting teaching as an aspirational career. Photo: Supplied.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Wits considers varied assessments methods as restrictions are laxed

Wits University will look to increase the ways students’ knowledge and understanding of concepts are assessed, to optimise learning in 2023.   

Professor Diane Grayson, senior director of academic affairs, says learning plans are a work in progress. “Using diverse forms of assessment allows us to assess a wider variety of skills, knowledge and competencies.” The university is orientating lecturers this semester on the new standing orders.  

Roger De Mello Koch, a fourth-year electrical engineering student, agrees that assessment needs to be enhanced especially for online examination, saying multiple choice does not allow students to show understanding of a concept.  

Wits implemented the blended learning programme after two years of remote teaching and learning due to the covid-19 pandemic. Grayson says the main problem with remote learning was students and lecturers became isolated. Brett Freeman, a lecturer in the school of mechanical, industrial and aeronautical engineering, agrees: “You don’t grow as a person socially if you [are] sitting in your bedroom listening to lectures.”  

Students sitting and standing in a full SH6 lecture hall during in-person lectures. Photo: Aarti Bhana

Students who experienced in-person, remote and blended learning agreed that the lack of social interaction hampered their learning. De Mello Koch says online lecturing results in less engagement because students are not forced to engage with the material as at an in-person lecture.  

Computer science honours student, Sonia Bullah, believes the blended learning programme needs to be developed further to assist with revision.  “It would be really beneficial to record in-person lectures and post them online later,” she says. 

Both De Mello Koch and Bullah said students of the future should always look to ask for help if they do not understand a concept. De Mello Koch adds: “Often other students can provide more clarity on something you are struggling with as they will explain it in a different way that may make more sense.”  

FEATURED IMAGE: Second year chemical engineering student works through a blended learning lab. Photo: Colin Hugo 

RELATED ARTICLES:

No “good story” for African languages

More than a decade after Wits agreed to adopt Sesotho as a second language, the university is no closer to implementing this commitment.

In 2003 Wits University drew up a language policy that said the university would use an African language, Sesotho, as a medium for teaching and learning.

“The resources of the university need to be mobilised to enhance the language competencies of staff and students and, in partnership with the government, play a role in the development of one of South Africa’s African languages,” reads the policy.

However, while the policy has remained in effect its implementation has been hampered by a lack of resources.

“Unfortunately, I do not have a good story to tell … I think we must take some responsibility, we say one thing and we do another,” said Vice-chancellor Prof Adam Habib.

Habib said the current language policy was “all for show” and the university needs to be realistic about its ability to implement an African language for teaching. “We love the policy but where are we going to find the millions of rands? It’s all for show and not for the reality of where we are. It’s a symbolic statement we make [more] than a real statement,” he said.

The 2003 policy outlined the implementation of Sesotho in four phases however, a decade later, not a single phase of implementation has taken place. Phase one, offering Sesotho classes for staff members, was supposed to have been implemented in 2010.

The policy was adopted by Wits because government made it a requirement for all higher educational institutions to further transform. The university signed the policy but took little action to implement it.

THE ISSUE: Adam Habib in conversation about the Language Policy.

THE ISSUE: Vice- chancellor Prof Adam Habib in conversation about the Language Policy. Photo by: Anazi Zote

“The university said ‘let’s go into compliance and let’s tick the boxes’ and we kept quiet and nobody asked,” Habib said.

The university began to look at revising and implementing its policy last year after government said it would conduct a survey of indigenous languages at higher education institutions.

Prof Libby Meintjes, head of the School of Language and Literature Studies, said the first draft of a new language policy would be released in October.

“We are moving back to mother tongue teaching and if we cannot manage it in lectures we will have it in tutorials,” Meintjes said.

According to Meintjes, last year the university sent an email survey asking what was the preferred African language as a medium of learning and teaching. The results showed that isiZulu was in demand more than Sesotho.

“Staff and students put isiZulu ahead of Sesotho because of the language competence and the number of people that speak it but we don’t feel that because isiZulu has replaced Sesotho we will only go for isiZulu,” Meintjes said.

Habib said Wits needed to be honest about what it can do in terms of using African languages with current resources.

“We cannot spend so much time lying to ourselves. I think we should come into terms with it, if we don’t have the resources, the will, and we don’t have the courage, let’s not pretend that we do,” he said.

However, he concluded that Wits can achieve some kind of transformation, but it would be skewed by South Africa’s history.