Alumni Small Grant empowers learners in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

Underprivileged students living in rural communities and poor township populations in South Africa face many educational challenges. These challenges prevent them from gaining skills needed to blossom in life. It is a situation South African alumnus, Khulile September, is determined to change in his home province of Eastern Cape. Khulile decided to focus on supporting students with gateway subjects for further study and employment such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

“One challenge is lack of access to these important subjects, high failure rates and too many university dropouts,” says Khulile who completed a Master of Project Management from the Queensland University of Technology (2012). “Also, not enough young students from poor communities are pursuing STEM careers. It’s a situation that needs to be reversed for South Africa’s future development.”

These days, Khulile heads the Inspire Foundation Group Africa, a youth led, education focused non-profit organisation bridging the gap between youth living in rural and township areas and those in more affluent areas who attend private schools. It does so through high-impact education programs.

Khulile’s studies in Australia, and drive for positive change, inspired him to apply for an Australia Awards Small Grant in 2017 to address these and other community’s educational challenges. He is thrilled that the grant has had so many positive benefits, including South Africa’s top universities accepting three learners for Civil Engineering, Aeronautical Engineering and Actuarial Science courses in 2019.

At the Inspire Foundation Khulile applies the skills and knowledge he developed while studying in Australia, including new teaching methods he was exposed to. “Australia’s teaching methods include applying theory into real-life situations,” says Khulile. “I admired how the education system uses case studies, other methodologies and technology to enhance teaching and improve learning.”

The grant was put to good use on many levels. With one initiative it was used to empower grades 5 to 12 learners to complete full-year syllabuses and prepare them for exams. Through Inspire Academy—the Mathematics, Science, Information and Communications Technology and Accounting tutoring entity of the Inspire Foundation—971 high school students benefitted between January 2018 and June 2019.

“Importantly, this group included 561 females,” says Khulile. “All learners advanced and took full advantages of school study centers which provided access to free Internet facilities and other resources required for academic research and university applications.”

In another initiative under the small grant, the Inspire Academy launched the “Inspire Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) STEAM Challenge in the Eastern Cape” (2018). The event focused on motivating learners to develop their art, science and technology innovation skills and apply theory to practice in science experiment demonstrations.

A total of 970 learners, including 445 females, from Eastern Cape and Gauteng provinces attended the event, showcasing their research skills and building models and prototypes to solve community problems. The winning team assembled an environmentally friendly model of a car powered by energy from cow dung. The winners were awarded computers, an important educational resource for those living in rural communities.

Also, under the Australia Awards Small Grant, the Inspire Foundation Group Africa hosted an annual Career Exhibition and Prize Giving event. At the exhibition, young professionals from community-based and other organisations, such as Equal Education, Eskom, Rothchild South Africa and Gradesmatch, spoke about their experiences and provided career guidance. South African alumni, Nompumelelo Radebe, and Nomzamo Mnqeta were on hand to share advice from similar career exhibitions. The alumni also donated R1000 towards prizes.

Star performers were awarded prizes at the exhibition and parents and learners gathered information on career opportunities in fields such as Actuarial Science, Media Studies, Law and Electrical Engineering.

The Inspire Foundation’s STEM efforts in the Eastern Cape have been widely recognised and applauded. Mercedes Benz South Africa, for example, identified the foundation as one of four important non-profit organisations making a big impact in the province. One impact is Inspire Academy employing qualified youth as tutors.

“It’s rewarding to see how the Australia Awards Small Grant supported so many positive initiatives and led to so many positive results,” says Khulile. “The grant has played an important role in helping the Inspire Academy to sustain its efforts in delivering quality education and improving the grades of learners studying subjects required by universities and colleges in South Africa.”

Four learners from the Nzulululwazi Technical High School won one of the Inspire STEAM Challenges. They are (from left to right) Matikinca Zizipho, Kunene Lwazi, Akhonke Makapela and Nyala Asamkele.

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