2020 was a very challenging and unique year for the REAP programme which had to be adapted and redesigned to meet the unique needs of students which resulted from Covid-19 and the consequent restrictions.
The year began as usual, with intensive administration in January and February including:
• gathering and capturing students results
• monitoring supplementary exams
• providing donors with student progress reports
Individual contacts with students then commenced, reflecting on the achievements and challenges of the previous year and to develop a plan for success for the new year. Not all students had participated in these sessions by the time Covid -19 lockdowns were imposed and the remaining sessions were conducted virtually.
Online support & return to campus
Most institutions commenced with emergency online learning as early as 20 April, with a clear appreciation that some students would be unable to participate due to a lack of data, electricity, and other circumstances. Many provided online learning orientation programmes, tutoring, and increased accessibility of lecturers. The effectiveness varied across institutions and faculties. Data was also provided by institutions to varying degrees, and most HEIs portals were zero-rated.
Some institutions introduced the multimodal approach, where hard copies of study material were distributed to students, and online learning commenced for those with connectivity.
A national student online counselling support service was also made available to all students. The aim was to encourage students to reach out for help if they were experiencing anxieties related to the lockdown. Online library access and additional e-books were purchased to assist students without textbooks and to provide a more comprehensive pool of resources.
While NSFAS and HEI committed to providing students with laptops, supplier shortages caused delays in getting devices to students. Fortunately, all REAP first-years received a laptop.
Most institutions invited students that were not able to participate effectively in online learning to return to Campus using DHET guidelines and their criteria. REAP lobbied for the return of students identified as high risk in our student survey. Unfortunately, social distancing regulations meant that some students had to move into new residences that were not of the same standard and lacking in facilities.
Approximately 20% of our students returned either to campus or private accommodation. They were predominantly medical and engineering students. Most institutions used continuous assessments to grade the first semester which was completed in August/early September. Semester two began in September with most HEIs completing at the end of November, but some extended into the first quarter of 2021.
In order to find out how lockdown was affecting our students, both personally and academically, we decided to structure the SDA one-on-one consultation to gather uniform data. The SDA then populated the relevant findings of the consultation into google survey for each of their students, which enabled us to analyse the data and respond efficiently to emerging needs. Overall the results regarding living circumstances and connectivity were encouraging. There was high correlation with the number of family members living in a household and the level of difficulty experienced by the student to create a conducive study environment. With emergency funding received from AVI and Santam, we were able to address immediate needs for IT equipment repairs and replacements, data and travel back to private accommodation and in some instances, residences. Furthermore, we were able to motivate some institutions to allow our most at-risk students (cramped living conditions with poor connectivity) to be included in those selected to return to residence. The need for additional academic support and feelings of isolation were also identified from the survey and used to inform programmatic adjustments.
Adapting to Covid restrictions
To help students adapt to their new conditions and to stay positive, we engaged them in fun activities and competitions, such as creating COVID-19 awareness in their communities and encouraging those around them to adhere to government regulations and guidelines. REAP students achieved this by creating videos and articles educating their communities about COVID-19. Participation in these initiatives were counted towards the 2020 community service requirement.
In an effort to keep our students focused, to keep their spirits up, and to remind them that they are not alone, we sent them daily motivational messages and study tips. The responsibility for this task rotated between regions, and feedback from students indicated that these messages were helpful and encouraging.
We adapted workshop content and activities into a virtual friendly format, which stretched the capabilities of our programme leads. To begin, we took bite size pieces of workshop material and developed them into weekly themes with short daily activities for students to engage with. From day 110 of lockdown, this customised content replaced the daily motivational messages. The SDA’s worked in teams and expressed enjoyment in the challenge of using their creative talents to develop videos. The themes covered were as follows:
- Personal branding
- Study methods
Our study groups were successfully implemented across all regions. Initially we used the groups to introduce students to each other and familiarise them with virtual platforms (Zoom, google classroom, google meet, Microsoft teams, WhatsApp, adobe) using fun activities and competitions. Thereafter, formal study group sessions were scheduled, including 30 min group psychosocial support and 90 min academic support utilizing shared knowledge and tutors as required.
Within the members of the Bursary support providers forum, REAP has been a forerunner in developing online academic support for its students, and we were able to share our learning and practice in a webinar series. The study groups have been useful in:
- Reducing feelings of isolation and developing coping skills
- Providing a network of academic support
- Creating a platform for accountability
- Building confidence and self-esteem
- Creating a space to share tips/skills on how to self-manage learning at home
- Accessing guidance from an SDA familiar with the student and HEI context.
At the onset, there were numerous challenges relating to connectivity, but these improved with practice, finding the most relevant platform for each group, data provision from the HEI and data provision from REAP. REAP Alumni who were recruited as tutors have provided an added source of support and inspiration as current students were exposed to their positive attitude and success.
In response to differing student needs, we expanded the method of implementation to include:
- Study Groups with the SDA only
- Study groups with SDA and Tutors
- One-on-one Tutoring
Forty four tutors made up of Reap Alumni, REAP senior students and external sources were contracted and implemented approximately 130 tutoring sessions. Self-reports from students indicated that they found the sessions helpful. Unlike Institutional tutors, REAP tutors were able to schedule sessions in hours that did not interfere with online lectures. SDAs reported that it was useful to be part of tutoring sessions as it gave them insight into students’ academic progress and understanding of content and questions.
Workshops, Webinars and other REAP Events
Students participated in several webinar events offered by REAP and were also invited to attend webinars provided by other organisations.
Information Workshops were held in February for all shortlisted first year students. These were well attended and provided applicants with more information about REAP and the expectations of both parties. They were able to engage with REAP peer buddies and hear first-hand what it means to be a REAP student. Opportunity was provided for students to withdraw their application in the event of a disjuncture in expectations. All students proceeded to sign up for interviews.
Contracting workshops were held for all continuing students in March. The focus of these workshops was the student handbook and REAP contract which outlines the expectations and commitments made by both parties. There was opportunity for reflection on the previous year so that lessons learned could be implemented in the new year. Students with outstanding achievements were recognised and the programme plan for the year diarised and discussed.
We only managed one face-to-face orientation camp (in Bloemfontein for Motheo TVET students) before lockdown. We had 83% attendance at our first-year webinar, which replaced our standard orientation camp for university students. The focus was on general issues affecting first-year students in the various tertiary institutions, such as adapting to online learning, study techniques, time management, and available support services within their institutions. The segment on time management was facilitated by an external speaker, who focused on managing the distractions of social media, a common problem for many of our students. As this was our first student webinar, we learnt a lot about breakaway rooms and the division of team functions in managing the platform. 96% of the participants rated the webinar as highly relevant.
A second first-year webinar was held, which focused on navigating intimate relationships and gender-based Violence, which had 100% attendance. 7 Student committee members and facilitators from LoveLife assisted with various segments. Learnings from the first webinar and the change in the virtual platform were evident in this event’s smoother running.
Peer Buddies played a supportive role to our small cohort of first-year students, many of whom had only been on campus for a few weeks and were still trying to find their feet regarding university expectations and academic demands. We were able to repurpose some of the funds in the peer buddy budget to enable us to provide additional data to keep in contact with their students and to support one another. Our Buddies helped students to navigate the university online learning systems, provided course-related information, and notified SDA of specific student’s needs. We implemented a National Peer Buddy task team, providing our peer buddies with a platform for support and debriefing. At times it has been difficult for peer buddies to offer encouragement when they have personally been struggling to adapt to the new circumstances. Peer Buddy Training was held in all sites.
They kept in touch with the first years virtually, holding fun online activities and assisting with webinars. REAP appreciated the efforts of the Peer buddies at a virtual event on 4 October. The 2020 group suggested that we have an event at the beginning of the year with REAP Peer Buddy Alumni to share their experiences as part of the induction of new Peer Buddies.
We held 2 webinars on the 5th and the 19th of September for our senior students, with over 90% participation. Due to the large numbers, we ran 2 concurrent sessions on each occasion with multiple guest presenters. Students learnt how to create a cover letter & CV; how to create a LinkedIn profile that will attract employers, and how to search for jobs.
- Three students who attended the LinkedIn Webinar won prizes from LinkedIn.
- All students received workbooks guiding them on how to best set up a LinkedIn profile.
Work Readiness Webinars were held for all our final year students to prepare them for the workplace next year. They were able to practice their elevator pitch in breakaway groups and get feedback on how they communicate their selling points. This was good preparation for the upcoming mock interviews.
An HR expert addressed the final year students to help them prepare for interviews. She has valuable local and international experience and offered to couch 5 students and assist with improving their CV’s.
Several professionals in the various fields were engaged in mock interviews scheduled with each student. Some professionals offered further mentoring to their interviewees for further development.
KZN Final Year Appreciation Awards
Finally, full-day face-to-face workshops and gala events were held for our EC, KZN, GP and FS final years, whilst the Western Cape event took place virtually. The students learnt about financial planning and employment contracts. These events were highly enjoyed and appreciated by our students who have had minimal social engagement for a significant part of the year.
We have learnt that using virtual platforms has a number of benefits, including reduced costs, reduced time spent travelling, better cross-pollination between regions, and the creation of a national student experience.
Gauteng and Free State Work Readiness Workshop
Gauteng and Free State Work
Gauteng and Free State Work
Gauteng and Free State Work
KZN Final Year Appreciation Awards
We launched our Student committee, with representatives from each region elected by their peers. Their responsibilities are as follows:
- Participate in developing facilitator guides (workshops).
- Assist with formulating impactful activities that truly speak to their needs.
- Co-facilitate during workshops.
- To be the custodians of the Community Service and beyond Journey to Tertiary for example cleaning schools, observing and commemorating Mandela Day events and visiting old age homes. (This is a way to promote REAP’s community serving ethos)
- Participate and engage during mid/ annual organizational reviews.
- Listen to students concerns and needs
- Reflection or feedback after interacting with REAP (individual, group, workshop) on how best to benefit from REAP as students
Unfortunately, lockdown happened before we could provide training; however, we adapted our programme and managed do this virtually. Each member made a short video introducing themselves to the REAP student body, which was collated and circulated in our study groups. The Student Committee has been a valuable resource to our programme team, enabling us to learn what the emerging students’ needs are and sharing HEI communications with us. They participated in think tanks to help us remain relevant to student needs and made recommendations regarding adapting programme activities to online ones. They have also assisted with marketing webinars, facilitating relevant segments, and chairing discussions in break-out rooms. The committee has put forward a number of new ideas for consideration for 2021, such as:
- A National virtual student-led GBV workshop
- REAP SC quarterly newsletter in the format of an infographic
- A REAP Instagram Account
- Developing a national LinkedIn REAP account
- The SC holding discussions on topics of student interest.
National student committee members induction session
We currently have 879 Alumni on our database with primary mobile numbers for each of them, 655 of whom have their employment organisation listed. We stay connected with them via email, WhatsApp and Facebook, sharing job opportunities, notices regarding interesting and relevant societies of them to join, relevant competitions and requests to be speakers at student events (such as senior students’ motivational webinars) and to share at alumni events. They also receive a twice- yearly newsletter. Currently we have 13 Alumni as part of our Tutorial programme.