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02 May 2018 Photo Charl Devenish
South Campus UAP celebrates 27 years of access to education
Mr Francois Marais, Prof Kalie Strydom, Prof Daniella Coetzee (South Campus Principal), Prof Francis Petersen, Dr Nthabeleng Rammile (Vice-Chairperson of the UFS Council), and Dr Khotso Mokhele (Chancellor of the UFS).

More than 27 years ago, international funding from the Human Sciences Research Council and Anglo American was put to an unusual use for that time. Prof Kalie Strydom’s research unit at the University of the Free State (UFS) was tasked with reviewing how institutional missions would change in the new South Africa. Prof Strydom worked closely with surrounding communities in Bloemfontein to develop a bridging course which would help students who showed potential to access tertiary education, although they did not meet the requirements. His vision brought to birth the University Access Programme (UAP), as it is known today, which is hosted on the UFS South Campus, and is still providing unique access to higher-education institutions in South Africa.

People with a passion for human development
March 2018 saw the 27th anniversary of this remarkable initiative, which has given a second chance to over 18 000 students. Special guests at the event included Prof Strydom, Mr Francois Marais, and representatives from the Department of Higher Education and Training and Investec’s corporate social investment office.

Dr Sonja Loots, researcher in the UFS Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), singled out two key individuals in the formation of the UAP: Prof Kalie Strydom, who initiated the programme, and Mr Marais, who has been Director of the UAP since its inception. Dr Loots highlighted one of the driving forces behind Prof Strydom’s perseverance, vision, and determination with the UAP by quoting from an interview with him for an upcoming book on student access and success. He said, “It was a decision based on principle … to be part of the solution to a better country.”

Access and success still an issue today
In his presentation on the “Importance of Access”, Prof Francis Petersen, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS, pointed out the vital role of access in South Africa, especially the value it offers for the betterment of the country’s people. However, he said that student success is also an issue, and institutions need to be accountable for it. Quoting Prof John Martin of the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Engineering, “We must be flexible on access, but robust on success.” Only by “closing the loop” in this way, can the UFS and other higher-education institutions ensure a valuable contribution to the economy of the country.

News Archive

UFS researchers help find opportunities to create knowledge
2016-09-15

Description: Mobile libraries  Tags: Mobile libraries

The initiative hopes that the mobile libraries
will continue to contribute towards literature
awareness and access to books at rural
schools in the Free State.
Photo: Supplied

Did you know that only 3 392 primary schools in South Africa have libraries? In the Free State the statistics are shocking. Only 277 primary schools have libraries, while 1 087 carry on without them. One of nine provinces in South Africa, the Free State is regarded as a rural province. The South African Primary Education Support Initiative (SAPESI), in partnership with other sponsors, has committed to expanding access to books by donating mobile libraries to service schools across South Africa. In the Free State, the project is embraced by the Free State Department of Education, which employs the mobile operators and library assistants to service these libraries, driving many kilometres of gravel road to visit remote farm schools and other under-resourced schools. SAPESI has set a goal to supply 75 mobile libraries to provide 2 000 schools with access to books by the year 2020.

Discovering the value of the mobile libraries
Although the mobile libraries in the Free State have been functioning since 2007, no formal research had been conducted on their work. Towards the end of 2014, the Free State Department of Education and the Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance (VVOB) commissioned the UFS to carry out a participatory action research project. Dr Lynette Jacobs, Head of the School of Education Studies at the University of the Free State’s Faculty of Education and her team engaged with role-players at district and provincial level in a Participatory Action Research project.

The research project aimed to describe the work that mobile libraries do, and appraise its influence on learners and schools, towards improving their functionality. In addition, this project aimed to build research capacity within the district teacher development centres.

Highlights of the mobile library project
The way the Free State Department of Education embraced and supported the initiative by Mr Tad Hasunuma and SAPESI, was inspiring. Each of the five education districts has two fully equipped library buses that periodically visit schools. The stock on the buses is regularly replaced by books that SAPESI receives from the international community. Specific books are also loaded for teachers to use as resources. One of the outcomes of the research project was that guidelines were developed for teachers on how to use books in addition to curriculum material in the classroom. At district level, the teams reflected on the work that they were doing and implemented improvement plans to provide an even better service. Findings of the project were presented at the XIV Annual International Conference of the Bulgarian Comparative Education Society that focused on education provision earlier this year. It was lauded by representatives of the international education community as an example of good practice to provide education to marginalised children.

Reading helps enrich children’s lives
The research project concluded by stating that the aim of the mobile libraries was to provide learners and teachers at rural and farm schools with reading books, and they were doing as best they could. While the mobile libraries cannot make up for possible challenges related to teaching and learning or in infrastructure, the learners and the teachers are regularly provided with good resources to encourage reading and stimulate literacy development.

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