Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Project Empower

Empowering rural youth: the value of formalizing operations to expand programme reach.

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Facilitate access to educational opportunities | 21 May, 2013 - 17:35


Education in South Africa has traditionally created a divide between rural and urban high school graduates. Rural learners matriculate without the necessary academic and social capital to effectively explore their further education options and to succeed in university life. If they do gain access to a tertiary education institution they struggle to adapt to the university and urban environment and consequently many rural students drop out before completing their studies. Rural youth are marginalised in these settings because they face a multitude of overlapping challenges including access to information, finance, information technology skills, language abilities, and internalised feelings of inferiority.

The Learning Partnership and Access Programme is designed to address this massive gap existing between urban and rural high-school graduates by offering rural high-school learners a holistic approach to career guidance and education development. The focus is on academic as well as individual and social development processes.

The Learning Partnership and Access Programme introduces rural Grade 12 learners to a holistic learning experience that aims to help them improve their academic skills, expand their life skills, and broaden their understanding of core development issues affecting rural and urban populations today. The programme provides a practical introduction to tertiary education institutions in order to facilitate access to such institutions. As such it acts as an “access bridge” between rural schools and universities.

At this point, the program only operates between two rural schools and the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (UKZN), but the goal is to use this pilot case to develop a generic template that can be replicated in similar situations in future.

Programme strategy

The Learning Partnership and Access Programme is a multi-pronged teaching and learning programme aimed at a small group of selected learners from two rural schools in the village of Ndumo, in northern KwaZulu-Natal. These schools lie within the uMkhanyakude district, which is one of the most impoverished and neglected in the country. It is characterised by pervasive unemployment, out-migration of the able-bodied/skilled populace, and high rates of HIV/Aids. These schools are severely under resourced, marginalised and isolated, and as a result the teachers and learners have poor access to accurate information on the requirements for tertiary education.

During the first phase of project implementation Grade 12 learners from the two participating schools were invited to attend monthly development workshops, to meet with visiting students from the UKZN, and to go on a weeklong excursion to the city of Durban.

Career Guidance Workshops

From 2011 to 2012 students from the two participating schools were invited to attend monthly workshops. There were eleven workshops in total, which were held on Friday afternoons and Saturdays and covered a range of development topics such as critical thought, tolerant engagement, and crosscutting dialogue. They were structured to encourage learners to examine their own perspectives on issues, to express these to each other, and to challenge their own and others’ viewpoints.

Exposure to University Life

Students from UKZN were invited to spend a week in Ndumo with learners from the two participating schools. Both local and international students from a variety of different universities with a variety of academic backgrounds participated in the visit. The UKZN students used the school-visit towards a for-credit research assignment in one of their courses.

The university students met with the Ndumo learners to share their university experience and career preparation paths. But they also engaged in a research assignment together with the Ndumo learners to explore creative solutions to local development challenges. The high-school learners acted as research assistants and were involved in helping the university students complete their research paper. This gave them the opportunity to see, first hand, how research is conducted and how to write an academic paper at university level. Research topics included: the role of youth in Ndumo decision-making, teenage pregnancy, health care, and women’s livelihoods.

During the week, a host of key stakeholders were also engaged including traditional authorities, elected politicians, municipal authorities, farmers, clinics, traditional healers, agribusiness, and conservation.

Urban Excursion

Participating Ndumo learners had the opportunity to go to the city of Durban and to visit the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal to raise awareness about urban development issues. For many of these young people this was their first visit to an urban area. At UKZN they received career counselling, experienced lectures, and were involved in a seminar discussing urban development challenges and potential solutions. In the city, they visited museums, a heavily polluted industrial area, had an on-foot townships tour, and met with urban youngsters at a local school.

The purpose of the city and university visit was to help demystify the urban setting, and expose them to new ideas, people and places and thus broaden their horizons. It also introduced the learners to some of the development challenges facing the country including climate change, processes of urbanization, and unemployment. Learners were encouraged to value their own rural experiences.

Lessons on Expanding and Adapting the Program

Recently the Learning Partnership and Access Programme received funds to scale-up its outreach activities. This has resulted in a number of implementation changes and has called for some flexibility in the programme design. The following is a list of lessons learnt about how to flexibly adapt to rapid program expansion and scale-up.

1.     Formalise program operations by starting a NGO – the programme was previously run voluntarily by a university lecturer and was not formally recognized by the associated university. By consolidating all programme activities and formalizing the operational structure into a registered non-profit organization, the initiative has gained credibility and recognition. As a result it has been able to successfully employ a full-time coordinator, secure donor funding, and received support from the university.

2.     Work with Grade 11 learners and not Grade 12 learners – Grade 12 learners have too many school and academic commitments and are not available to attend Friday and Saturday workshops as they are often already attending extra lessons.

3.     Work with small groups of learners – Although the programme is scaling up and expanding its reach to more schools and more learners, our experience is that the learners gain more out of small group sessions. These smaller groups are also more manageable.

4.     Recruit volunteers from university courses – We are partnering with university lecturers to include a service component into their courses that will encourage university students in these classes to participate in a rural outreach activity for course credit. By recruiting teaching teams of university students (enrolled in a year long course) we are able to expand our reach to more schools and maintain the small group focus. The goal is to begin with nine university students serving five schools.


This learning brief has provided a list of lessons learnt about how to flexibly adapt to rapid program expansion and scale-up. The first is to formalise program operations by starting a NGO. The second lesson is to be comfortable changing the target audience if it makes sense, in this case the focus shifted from grade 12 to grade 11 learners. The third lesson is to continue doing what works well, such as maintaining the small-group emphasis. And finally, it might be necessary to be creative about finding volunteers to help with expanding outreach implementation – such as partnering with a local university to recruit students.


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In Short

The Learning Partnership and Access Programme bridges the gap in social capital between urban and rural high-school graduates in Kwa-Zulu Natal. This learning brief outlines how the programme is expanding its reach and scaling up to serve more schools in the province. 

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