South Africa has a very low grade 12 (matric) pass rate and an extremely high dropout rate – with a national average of 44.6%*. In rural areas this is significantly worse: we estimate that in our area only 40% of students make it to grade 12. Even if students pass, one of the crucial challenges facing South Africa at the moment is finding a pathway for every student into further study or the workplace. In 2019 there were 9.1 million young people not in education, employment or training (so called NEETs)*, and in rural areas like ours where unemployment is as high as 80%*, this number must be far higher.
Recognizing these challenges, Axium started its Careers offering in 2013 by supporting a handful of highly motivated rural students to access tertiary studies. Over the years, as the number of learners we have applied for has climbed, and as students have graduated and returned to work as professionals in their communities, there is a very different sense of possibility amongst our students and in our communities.
Cue our Careers Team: Sive Mda, Zodwa Nho and Azisiwe Somlenze. Axium’s three Career Officers offer support to eight different high schools in a variety of ways:
Support with applications for tertiary education;
Support with applications for bursaries and funding;
Hosting careers expos and career exposure;
Providing job shadow opportunities;
Developing a contextually relevant careers curriculum for grade 8-12 learners;
Building personalized study and revision plans for grade 12 learners;
Subject choice assistance
Growing a supportive alumni network;
Developing partnerships with local industries connected with employment opportunities and;
Strengthening technical skills pathways through partnerships with TVETs
(Alongside high school support, the team is also involved in community outreach and assists Axium employees to further their studies)
The Careers programme operates differently at our two different sites.
In Zithulele, historically, the programme has worked alongside Axium’s Ekukhuleni programme to support 120 highly-motivated grade 10-12 students from six different highschools. However, for the past couple years, in addition to the 30 grade 12s from this group, Sive and Zodwa have informally been assisting additional grade 12 learners who turn up at the Axium office needing assistance with tertiary applications. This year for the first time, they have formally broadened their reach by visiting each highschool, engaging with principals and extending their offering to all grade 12 students.
“The response has been amazing; in almost every school there have been learners who have shown interest in our work. So I think this approach is working.” Zodwa said.
After presenting to over 640 students, 254 showed interest and 170 (and counting) learners have been applied for. For each one of these learners the team applies for at least 3 universities!
“We have improved a lot from when we started,” Sive reflected. Just imagine from helping 30-40 learners to the number that we are this year. That is a big difference and I’m impressed by our team. How many more people can we help, how many lives can we change?”
In Amajingqi, Azisiwe works directly with one highschool to provide careers services to all learners within the high school. When Axium started partnering with this highschool in 2018, only 2 grade 12 students (4% of all grade 12s) graduated and went onto tertiary studies. This past year, we saw 32 graduates (37% of all grade 12s) accessing tertiary opportunities! While we are excited about the progress, Azisiwe has more ambitious dreams for this programme:
“I would sleep well at night if there would come a time where we are able to reach 100% applications for learners and for them to be accepted at all the institutions we apply them to. That’s my dream at the moment.”
We are hoping that through continued targeted academic interventions and growing partnerships with tertiary institutions that we will see this number steadily climbing over the next few years (and hopefully Azi can get some sleep!).
Our mission statement describes a world where “…every rural student leaves school with purpose, agency and options.” While we know this is currently not the case in the vast majority of our rural schools, we aim to combine our growing experience from these two sites, to build a promising model for developing pathways for every student into further study or the workplace.
We believe that providing learners with a vision of their future - linked to practical plans and actions - is a cornerstone of learner engagement. The body of research around student motivation* makes very clear connections between students’ sense of autonomy and purpose, and learning outcomes. As Azisiwe shared, “For learners in rural areas, there is not much exposure to opportunities after school, so they need guidance, both to know what is expected of them and what lies ahead of them. I think it’s important to have sight of the choices that are available to them. With this support, they’re going to go places!”.
*“Motivation – an overlooked piece of school reform” (2012) Center on Education Policy https://www.inflexion.org/student-motivation-an-overlooked-piece-of-school-reform/