Letsatsi Post-School Education & Training (PSET) Project

Background

As part of South Africa’s push towards the sustainable provision of electricity, the Department of Energy has for the past few years been funding the construction of renewable power plants (both wind and solar). This involves a tender process where consortia submit bids, demonstrating not only their technical competence, but also how they will use profits to benefit the local community. In 2014, REAP and the DG Murray Trust became BBBEE beneficiary partners of the Letsatsi Solar Park Trust (LSPT), an entity set up by the Letsatsi Solar Park company, which is located around 40km north west of Bloemfontein. 

As enshrined in the trust deeds, REAP is awarded a share of the solar park profits, but they must be used to support beneficiaries within a 50km radius of the plant. The city of Bloemfontein falls within the catchment area along with two small rural communities – Dealesville and Soutpan, which have been the main focus of the trust’s efforts to date. Historically there have been very few young people from those two communities going to university, making it difficult for REAP to utilise the available funds. Accordingly, we utilised trust funds to support several students enrolled at University of Free State (UFS) and Central University of Technology (CUT) given also they qualified as local beneficiaries. All came from low income rural households within the Free State province. 

However, over time, we were lobbied by local community advocates within both Dealesville and Soutpan to consider expanding our support to TVET students rather than just university. This would open up educational pathways for far more post-school youth from those communities and enable us to utilise more of the available funds from LSPT. Initially we funded a handful of previously enrolled TVET students in 2019, but we decided to launch a fully-fledged pilot, working with students at Motheo TVET College in 2020. The initial development activity was driven by consultants, but Buntukazi Nkomo (Student Development Advisor) joined the Motheo TVET team in January and Busisiwe Madikizela-Theu, (Project Leader) joined in February.

PSET Project Leader, Busisiwe Madikizela addressing the learners at Kuilsville High School

SDA, Buntukazi Nkomo addressing the learners at Kuilsville High School

Recruitment / Enrolment

In the first work week of January 2020 a team of 4 was deployed to the catchment area to verify matric results, gather documentation, confirm NSFAS acceptance and enrol students on to the REAP programme. Many more students than anticipated turned up and buses were arranged to transport students to enrol at Motheo TVET. This process was challenging due to numerous inefficiencies at the college.  The REAP student contract was discussed with all students before they signed up for the programme. The staff at the TVET college were very helpful and went out of their way to assist REAP students with registration. We ended up with 91 registered students and as a result needed to recruit an additional SDA (Selloane Morake) who was employed from 1 March.

We also managed to find a private residence that could accommodate all the students. Students were given the option of utilising this service or finding their own accommodation. The majority of students elected for the former. Within the first 2 weeks two female students were excluded from the residence for misconduct and a month later two more students deregistered as they had been enrolled in the wrong course. They had to make this change hastily due to NSFAS regulations of exclusion. They will enrol for the correct course in the next semester. The cohort was therefore reduced to 87 students.

Motheo TVET Orientation Camp

Orientation

A meeting was held with the community Representatives to discuss the support that REAP was providing to the students and further meetings were arranged and held with the parents of the students to clarify expectations, funding and rules. 

Four peer buddies, from the students who received only financial assistance in 2019, were selected and trained in time for an Orientation Camp held from 14-16 February at a campsite in Bloemfontein. The camp was thoroughly enjoyed by the students, many of whom had never had a similar opportunity. The participation and engagements were noteworthy, and it was clear that students were familiar with each other. 

A meeting was held with student support services and a joint tutoring programme was planned. Tutors were to be trained to begin working with groups of not more than 15 students after the Easter holiday. The TVET also agreed to assist with career guidance for 2020 matriculants and to assist us in early registration of students for 2021. Furthermore they met with REAP students to discuss services offered at the institution and the processing of NSFAS payments. A baseline survey and Individual contacts were conducted with most TVET students before the coronavirus restrictions and the remainder were occurred telephonically. Each student was assigned a designated Student Development Advisor.

Motheo TVET Orientation Camp

Student support / challenges

Very early into the academic year, Covid-19 hit and students were forced to return home and classes reverted to an online platform. REAP implemented virtual study groups and sourced past exam papers and memos to assist students academically during this period. We also monitored class attendance and reminded students about upcoming assessments. Unfortunately Covid-19 resulted in an extension of the academic period by six months, meaning there was only one semester completed in 2021. Students should have completed a certificate level and moved up a level in June but they only moved to the next level in January 2021. Students studying school level subjects were aligned with the basic education timetable and only received their results in February 2021.

The biggest challenge faced by students during lockdown was connectivity and data. We purchased laptops with the intention to distribute them to all students on successful completion of the first semester. Five laptops were distributed to students that were part of the 2019 cohort who progressed to the next level of study. The remaining laptops will be distributed once results have been received. To mitigate the impact of connectivity and data, students were encouraged to return to their private accommodation, however only 5 students chose to do so. Returning to private accommodation was closely followed by the return to campus. Most students were back on campus and attending classes by the 27th of July.

Accommodation has been the biggest challenge thus far. Many students applied to NSFAS for transport instead of accommodation, and this was only discovered after the signing of their lease agreements.  During Covid-19, many students who received NSFAS accommodation allowances, chose not pay their rent and hence the landlord instituted legal action against them. REAP has attempted to mitigate the potential consequences by paying over some of the student stipends to the accommodation provider and communicating the gravity of the consequences of non- payment to the students.

Some students were angry with REAP for paying over some of their stipend to the Landlord and became uncontactable. We made efforts to rebuild relationships with these students through daily motivational messaging during lockdown and through conducting a survey to ascertain the individual and collective needs of all students. These efforts were largely successful however a further 7 students were withdrawn for non-compliance with the REAP contract. Most of these students did not maintain contact with their SDA or have instigated negative behaviour among other students. They were given an opportunity to appeal the withdrawal decision, and as a result of the appeals, three of the seven were reinstated. 

Outcomes

Of the 91 students who started in February 2020, 23 passed all their subjects and 17 proceeded even if they are carrying one subject. Unfortunately 37 failed and a further 14 withdrew for a range of reasons. The graphs below show the Streams of Study, Results and Reasons for Withdrawal.

At face value these may appear to be somewhat disappointing results, but 2020 was an exceptionally difficult year for well documented Covid-19-related reasons, and the TVET results must also be judged in comparison to national benchmarks. In fact the average national throughput rate for TVET students since 2016 is a rather shocking 9.2%. To date our TVET cohort has done considerably better than that, at 45% – despite multiple disruptions and challenges due to Covid-19 in 2020, and we must also bear in mind that a large proportion of this group were NEETs – ie. not recent matriculants – which was always high risk. Future (ie from 2021 onwards) intakes will be much more selective and almost entirely matriculants who have been through detailed psychometric testing and career guidance, and at least been in a study pattern in recent times.  Accordingly, we would expect much better outcomes for those students. 

TVET STUDENTS BY STREAMS OF STUDY

RESULTS

TVET STUDENT WITHDRAWALS

Lessons learned

The current cohort has taught us few valuable lessons, perhaps the most significant being that if we want to maximize on success post school, we need to work with the grade 12 cohort, ensuring proper career guidance and preparation. To this end we have implemented a 16-hour school readiness programme which was implemented in both Soutpan and Dealesville with Grade 12 learners.  The programme content covers understanding of contracts, budgeting, computer skills as well as culture and diversity; as well as battery of personality, interest and aptitude assessments to help us make sure the right student is placed in the right course at the right institution. Various post school institutions also participated in a career expo at the school and assisted learners with applications. We plan to expand this learner preparation work to Grades 10 and 11 in 2021 and have engaged a curriculum design specialist to assist.  

We see this pilot Motheo TVET as vitally important to REAP’s future. We hope to develop a template of practice that can be replicated in other rural communities utilising BBBEE schemes in renewable energy projects, mines or other rural industries. 

School Readiness - Crossing the River Teamwork