Targeting SA’s hidden talent

2013-07-14 14:00

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Wits gives brilliant pupils holiday lessons in key subjects.

Mbulaheni Limuwani Helga wakes up early every morning to be at the bus station before 5.15am.

It’s more than a 50km trip to school each way, which takes about two hours.

“My parents always wanted me to get a better education,” she explains, and Tshikevha Christian School is the best in their area.

Mbulaheni hails from the small village of Ha-Khakhu in Thohoyandou, Limpopo.

But come the school holidays, the 17-year-old heads to Johannesburg, where she joins other exceptional teens to participate in Wits University’s Targeting Talent Programme.

Since its inception in 2007, the programme has helped 743 gifted but disadvantaged youngsters from the country’s poor, perirural and rural areas to develop their science and maths muscles.

The programme begins when a pupil is in Grade 10 and runs until they complete matric.

Mbulaheni, who is currently in Grade 12, says the programme has broadened her view of the world.

“I come from a disadvantaged background where most of the children have no motivation to become successful, and (they) get into drugs,” she explains during a break at Wits.

“But because of the interaction with kids from across the country and from different backgrounds, I’ve learnt that there are kids much worse off than myself.”

At Wits, pupils like Mbulaheni take part in three contact sessions each year.

They attend maths and science lessons, with a special focus on physics.

They also get a chance to study subjects that aren’t in the school syllabus, equipping them with the skills they’ll need to identify career paths they might not have considered otherwise.

“Before I came to this programme, I wasn’t sure which career I wanted to follow and research is difficult back home, when you have to travel 40km to get to an internet cafe.

“After joining the programme, I realised that I wanted to become a paediatrician.”

Her drive to become a doctor comes from her personal experience of sickness as a child.

“I want to be a doctor not only to provide medical assistance to children but also emotional care for them.”

Fred Norman, who is currently a first year accounting student at Wits, is a graduate of the Targeting Talent Programme.

Norman says the programme not only taught him more, but changed the way he thinks and applies his knowledge.

That’s because there’s more to the programme than just extra lessons.

Pupils also learn about diversity because they’re interacting with people from different backgrounds.

They develop analytical skills, and they’re taught to cope with the big battles that might stand in the way of their dreams.

Programme director Zena Richard says: “Parents tell us that when their children go back home they challenge a lot of the rules, and their behaviour and outlook towards their education changes tremendously.”

The programme was recently given a boost by BP South Africa, which donated R100?million specifically for students from the rural and perirural areas of Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

This donation alone will enable the programme to take on more than 900 students over the next few years.

Richard says it costs about R150?000 per student for the full three-year programme.

Other sponsors, too, keep the programme running – but money remains a huge obstacle for the youngsters themselves.

They may be brilliant, but the programme’s graduates can’t always secure the funding they need to study further.

For instance, in 2007, there were 267 pupils enrolled in the programme – but only 129 were able to go on to tertiary education.

Richard says: “It is such a waste of talent to have such smart kids who can’t make it further.

“We achieve the objectives of the programme, but it still remains a challenge ensuring that all of them access their full potential.”

»?He’s aiming to be a top 10 achiever

Many of the young men in Mpumalanga’s Embalenhletownship don’t think doing well at school is cool.

But Julius Nkosi is an exception – the Grade 12 OsizweniSecondarySchool pupil is driven to succeed and knows how to get there.

Julius was chosen for the Wits Targeting Talent Programme in 2011 and wishes more people could benefit from the “explosive” experience.

“We learn so much here. By the time we have completed the programme we are totally changed. The programme prepares us for our future and drives us to be successful.”

He’s one of his school’s top maths and science students.

He hasn’t decided yet what he wants to study next, but he’s particularly interested in psychology, either industrial or clinical.

“My mother has sacrificed a lot for me and all I’ve ever wanted was to make her proud.”

For now, though, he’s focusing on his final exams and hopes to be among South Africa’s top 10 matric achievers for 2013.

?»?Grab your opportunities

Siyabonga Madlopa is new to the Targeting Talent Programme, but the Grade 10 pupil from Jozini in KwaZulu-Natal already has big dreams.

He wants to enter the world of mechatronics. For the ordinary person on the street, that means robots used in manufacturing.

“In Grade 8 I found out that machines interested me a lot. For a while I thought a career in mechanical engineering would be great, but the programme has made me realise I’m quite creative. So now I want a career in mechatronics,” he gushes.

His excitement about the profession bubbles over when he explains his newly chosen career path.

He says he still struggles with articulating his ideas in English, but the programme has given him the confidence to speak freely so that one day he’ll be able to communicate his ideas to the world.

“In life, such opportunities don’t always come knocking, but when they do you have to grab them with both hands and make the best of them,” he said.

?»?Working hard is the answer

The star of Limpopo’s Class of 2012, Mmadikgetho Komane, is also a product of the Wits Targeting Talent Programme.

Komane, from Limpopo, scored 100% in mathematics, physical science and accounting and was the province’s top matriculant.

She says the programme taught her the value of working hard and never limiting herself.

“The programme exposed me to different careers and the possibilities that existed for me. Back home in Lebowakgomo, people are restricted to thinking the best careers are only in medicine. But I learnt how broad the world is.”

Komane is currently studying actuarial science at Wits.

One of the greatest lessons she learnt from the programme, which she says she’ll carry through life, is that she can be the best at anything she sets her mind to.

The 19-year-old has committed herself to giving back to the new group of students.

“I’m still part of the programme, but this time it’s about spending time with the new learners and imparting what I learnt. I feel the value of working hard is underestimated.”

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