Wits projects help high potential youth


Wits professors are studying ways to help youth from marginalised communities to realise their potential. Photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Wits Education project has helped 30 high-potential learners in the remote Limpopo village of Badimong to improve their reading comprehension from about 27% to scores in the region of 75%, Wits researchers heard last week.

The project report was presented by language and literacy professor Leketi Makalela at the High Potential Youth Symposium held at the Wits Club last week. The symposium was organised by the Office of the Vice Chancellor and the Faculty of Humanities.

Makelela described how he had helped the grade 4 to 6 learners to improve their Sepedi and English reading comprehension. Makalela will expand his research project, which focuses on bilingual literacy, to three more schools in Limpopo and a township school in Gauteng.

The projects presented at the symposium dealt with youth at different stages of their education.

Rhian Twine, the Community Liaison Officer at the Wits Rural Facility near Bushbuckridge, described her efforts to help marginalised secondary school learners navigate the complex and costly university application process.

She was joined by first year mining engineering student Nyiko Khoza, who told Wits Vuvuzela he was at the university because of Twine’s assistance.

Dr Jill Bradbury, who teaches cognitive and social psychology in the School of Human and Community Development, spoke about her Reaching for Excellent Achievement Programme (REAP), which started in the middle of 2011.

REAP focuses on Wits psychology students from disadvantaged backgrounds who “are doing well, but not yet excellently in the second year of study”.

Students who were getting about 60% despite difficult backgrounds, showed potential to excel, Bradbury said. “And potential means it’s not yet evident.”

Bradbury said REAP also aimed to increase diversity in the postgraduate psychology classes. She said REAP students had attended events like an international psychology conference in Cape Town  to get a taste of the kind of high-level discussions and activities they would participate in at postgraduate level.

“It’s creating spaces that would normally be postgraduate spaces and we’re saying: ‘Come and play here’,” said Bradbury, who added that “there has been considerable movement in the student’s grades” since the programme began.

Bradbury told Wits Vuvuzela she believes programmes focusing on high-potential youth are not elitist if they produce research which can be made available to educators everywhere.

“What we do must be more than just being kind to a small group of students or helping a particular school. It must deliver something that can help us to do education better in the long run for all other students.”

She said the university plans to compile the knowledge generated by the High Potential Youth research projects in a book.

Read more about Prof Makalela’s project at https://witsvuvuzela.com/2012/09/12/wits-professor-helps-limpopo-learners-to-read/

Students can prevent poaching crisis

Wits students who care about the country’s rhino poaching crisis can contribute in a number of ways.

“There are some student organisations that address these kinds of issues. For instance, Roots and Shoots and the BioSoc,” Prof Kevin Balkwill, Head of the Department of Animal, Plant and Environmental Sciences, said

“This is one way for students to become involved. Otherwise, there are more formal initiatives around Wits Rural Facility and Pullen Farm, two of Wits’ rural properties where students can become involved in conservation issues.”

The situation for the country’s rhinos is grave. A total of 52 rhinos have been dehorned since in South Africa’s game reserves, since the beginning of 2012, Wanda Mkutshulwa, Head of Communications at SANParks, revealed in a statement on February 3.

Two more rhino carcasses were found by tourists in the Kruger National Park on Tuesday, according to a statement released by Mr William Mabasa, Head of Public Relations and Communications at the Kruger National Park. The poachers are still at large.

Balkwill said many projects at Wits had conservation goals or applications. One way to make a difference was through postgraduate study.

A Wits honours student was due to contribute to the development of an Integrated Management Plan for the establishment of the Bushbuckridge Nature Reserve.

He also suggested that the Wits Volunteer Programme could be broadened to encompass environmental and conservation issues.

Dr Jo Shaw, a Wits PhD graduate, now working at Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring network, suggested students interested in participating in conservation could start by raising funds.

“There are 150 organisations actively involved in ‘saving rhinos’ in South Africa now.”

“If you want to get involved, go for one of the larger organisations with a scientific advisory board who ensure that your money is well spent.

“As of the last estimates at December 31, 2010, there were 18 796 white rhinos and 1 916 black rhinos in South Africa,” she said,

“At current poaching rates, rhino populations in South Africa are anticipated to begin to decline in 2015 or 2016.”

The number of rhino deaths have been on the increase as early as 2006. As many as 448 rhinos were shot in 2011.