A team of UKZN alumni and current students are spearheading an initiative to uplift young people and provide access to quality education through the development of an organisation called Focus Mentorship which has developed a smartphone app to provide high school learners with access to educational resources.
The initiative is led by Mr Bahle Chonco, who completed his BSc in Biochemistry and Chemistry at UKZN, assisted by Chemical Engineering student Mr Siphesihle Majola; BCom in Finance and Marketing graduate Ms Nontethelelo Hlongwane, and Mr Kwanele Khomo who studied at the University of Cape Town.
‘We were inspired by the system that we saw at UKZN, including the learn/Moodle application,’ said Chonco. ‘However, for some learners it is difficult to use e-learning tools, especially those from previously disadvantaged communities, so we took it upon ourselves to develop and introduce such systems at high school level, aimed at assisting learners adapt easily to the tools.’
The group also wanted to make study materials more easily accessible.
Members of the Focus Mentorship team were motivated by their own successes – Majola achieved 96% for Mathematics in his matric exams in 2016, while Hlongwane and Khomo each attained five distinctions in their matric years.
They now aim to uplift other young people and encourage active citizenry, seeing education as the driver of progress.
The group leveraged available digital technological capabilities to develop the app, which has attracted more than 1 000 daily users across South Africa.
Since not all learners can afford online tutoring they also host in-person classes in accordance with COVID-19 regulations at Luthayi High School in Hammarsdale, and have spoken on radio stations, such as Vibe FM, to motivate young people to consider their educational and career options.
Driven to contribute to the reduction of unemployment among the youth, their app provides private tutoring services and the facility for learners to book one-on-one or group tutoring sessions. Users can connect and chat with mentors or tutors, access past papers and memoranda, and find updated information on applications to institutes of higher learning and on accessing financial support. Tutoring sessions are delivered using various platforms including WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams and Zoom Meetings. ‘It is like having a tutor available exclusively for you,’ said Chonco.
In addition to equipping learners with these resources, Focus Mentorship is designed to monitor the progress of learners throughout the year while also fostering ambition in learners concerning their future careers, and encouraging informed decision-making about their vocations and goals.
Chonco said the team could not have developed the application without the support of parents, school teachers and community leaders who have assisted in a variety of ways.
He highlighted the importance of lecturers showing confidence in students’ abilities. ‘One UKZN lecturer who believed in me was the late Dr Patrick Govender,’ said Chonco. ‘If we believe in and equip every learner then we can instil confidence and greatness in them at a young age and by the time they reach university, they will be familiar with the systems used despite their different backgrounds. This will help ensure good results and lower dropout rates.’
‘At Focus, we are playing our part in arming learners with the most powerful weapon – education,’ added Chonco.
• The Focus Mentorship app is available from most app stores.
Words: Christine Cuénod