2020 was a uniquely challenging year, not only for REAP but the whole world. I am proud to say that we rose to the challenge – but will never be the same again! In a separate article I outline some of the specific impacts of Covid-19 on our staff, students, finances and general programming.
However 2020 was also significant for many other reasons:
- We developed a new strategic direction in response to shifts in the external operating environment.
- With the support of Letsatsi Solar Park Trust, we launched a brand new support programme for students at Motheo TVET College in Bloemfontein.
- We opened a new and much larger office in Bloemfontein to accommodate both the Motheo TVET team and our university support team.
- We piloted a programme with Grade 12 learners in high schools in the Free State and Northern Cape, preparing them for tertiary education. In 2021 we will extend this offering to learners in Grade 10 and 11, developing a curriculum that can be utilised and replicated in many other rural schools.
- We also identified and brokered formal partnerships with an additional four TVET colleges where we will support students in 2021 and beyond.
- We commenced a major research project in collaboration with the National Bursary Support Providers Forum, attempting to describe and evaluate the impact of holistic ‘wrap around’ support on student success. This work was generously funded by the DG Murray Trust.
- We piloted some new programme initiatives including a Student Committee, tutoring and group interactions – as well as, with very little lead time, successfully adapting our whole student support model to an online platform.
Each of these developments will be explained in greater depth in separate articles.
New Bloemfontein Office
Emerging School work at Kuilsville High School
Motheo TVET Orientation Camp
Despite all the challenges presented by Covid-19 to the academic programme, by and large our students performed well and overcame the multiple barriers placed in their path. REAP supported 521 students in 2020, of whom 430 were University and University of Technology students and 91 were Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) students. We have reported separately on our TVET students in the Letsatsi Post-School Education and Training Initiative article. The results that follow are for university and university of technology students.
students graduated in 2020. This is 78% of the final year students.
students (62%) passed enough courses to proceed to the next level
students (47%) passed all their courses
students (15%) passed a majority of subjects including their major enabling them to proceed to the next level
students (1%) were completing In-Service Training and did not write exams
students(1%) withdrew from the REAP Programme to continue their studies with other bursary providers (often linked to their discipline and with potential employment opportunities)
students (10%) failed
students (9%) were excluded from the REAP Programme before writing final exams, mainly due to poor academic results during the year
REAP is having to adapt to changing times and we are very much an organisation in transition. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation of our work, along with shifting donor priorities, have led us to the decision to embrace TVET colleges and prioritise preparation work with senior learners. We believe this will open up opportunities for many more rural youth to participate in Post School Training and Education. These shifts are entirely consistent with REAP’s core vision and mission and the gospel mandate to serve the most poor and disenfranchised.
In addition, some long standing donors are phasing out their support and new donors are being secured, though with different priorities, which require new programmatic approaches and working with different target groups in different institutions. When coupled with the shift to an almost entirely virtual delivery platform necessitated by Covid-19, this has forced the REAP programme team to redesign and re-strategise, stretching our capacity and expertise. It will also require changes to our data management and reporting processes and the retraining and repurposing of some staff. This remains a work in progress.
This transition phase may take at least another two years, and we may record operating deficits during that period, as we exit students recruited under a different funding regime, adapt our staffing and programming to the new model, and identify new donors.
Obviously the economic impact of Covid-19 has been severe on many business and potential donors, and it is not an easy climate in which to raise new funds. Thankfully we do have reserves which can hopefully sustain us during this difficult period, but clearly we need to quickly come up with an operating strategy which brings us back into financial balance.
I would like to pay tribute to REAP staff for their flexibility, optimism, hard work and resilience during a very testing year. Everyone had to learn to work very differently, bringing REAP into their domestic spaces, and losing the physical people connection which encourages and energises us all. As ever the REAP Board provided invaluable wise counsel and encouragement, and our donors also demonstrated care and understanding, even though facing multiple operational and commercial challenges of their own.
I remain confident that REAP has an important role to play moving forward, engaging much more intensively and strategically with specific rural communities, seeking to bring hope and transformation to youth who would otherwise be marginalised and left behind.