The University of Pretoria (UP) has, through its Mamelodi campus, sealed a co-operation with Hong Kong Polytechnic University that will immensely benefit learners from Mamelodi.
PUA is one of the UP’s flagship programmes that targets high school learners from Mamelodi and surrounding areas to help them develop academically and socially. It also exposes learners to new learning experiences as well as provides a platform for them to network with their counterparts from Hong Kong and other global institutions.
According to the UP, the programme makes use of a multi-pronged approach which aims to empower learners in terms of their traditional academic study, help develop teachers from their schools, encourage parental guidance and, ultimately, get them ready for their matric final exams and tertiary entry.
Learners from the PUA recently formed part of a project initiated as collaboration with the department of service learning at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The Caritas Ma On Shan Secondary School in Hong Kong also participated in the project.
The Polytechnic University students took the secondary school learners through a number of projects which included how to build a 360 cardboard viewer, use a 360 camera and create a 360 video with their footage. UP engineering students Janco Venter, Bryce van der Kaarts and Rohan van Zyl were brought on board to provide technical assistance.
Head of Community Engagement Research and Postgraduate Studies at UP’s Mamelodi Campus, Dr Martina Jordaan, said although the project was initiated by the Polytechnic Universit, it is a part of on-going collaboration between the institution and UP.
“This programme gave the PUA learners an opportunity to work with a team of students and learners from Hong Kong. For all the learners, they had several first-time experiences which included the use of the platform Zoom, the use of the 360 camera and a visit to the Lory Park Zoo. We have also worked on various projects with the Hong Kong Polytechnic University including the very successful Hackathon in 2020,” said Dr Jordaan.
Beyond teaching them how to use new technologies such as a 360 camera and Zoom, the project also taught the South African cohort about various topics, said Dr. Jordaan, from endangered species of animals in both countries, to each other’s cultures.
The project started late last year with Dr Jordaan presenting to the Hong Kong students a background session on South Africa, UP and the Mamelodi Campus and the PUA. Ten learners representing six schools in Mamelodi were selected to be part of the programme. Earlier this year, they met with their counterparts from Hong Kong via the online platform and began the work of getting to know one another and producing the videos.
The Hong Kong students and learners took the PUA learners on a virtual tour through Hong Kong. In return, the South Africans shared their experiences at Lory Park Zoo virtually with the students and learners in Hong Kong. At Lory Park Zoo the learners had the opportunity to interact with various animals, even getting to feed the lions.
Dr Jordaan said some of the project’s challenges included internet connectivity difficulties and dealing with potential exposure to COVID-19. But they were able to find innovative and safe solutions.
Said Dr Jordaan: “We were lucky that the learners are already very comfortable using the WhatsApp platform. When one of the computer lab assistants contracted COVID-19, we thought it best and safer to migrate for a few days to WhatsApp and Zoom sessions on their cell phones from their homes. In this way, the work of the programme was able to continue.”
To make the project possible, the Mamelodi Campus bought one 360 camera, and the Hong Kong Polytechnic University sponsored and posted another three cameras worth almost R35 000. Additional web cameras and headsets were purchased for the project by the Mamelodi Campus. The three cameras will be used for another project in September before returning to Hong Kong.
Feedback from the learners and the engineering students share their views about the impact of the project. UP third-year engineering student Venter said about the project. “One can easily forget about other people who have their very own challenges and think the world revolves around oneself; but this project reminded me that I am not the only one with challenges. There are other people worldwide with their own challenges, some easier and some more difficult.
A PUA learner, Unathi Mpayipeli, from Mahube Valley Secondary School said the experience taught her to see beyond race and gender. “I have learned a lot from the project, from communicating with different nationalities to teamwork. I learned communication skills and techniques and to be patient with other people. I learned not to judge by race and gender. It has also unleashed the adventurous part of me. Since I enrolled in this project, I see growth in myself,” she said.
Dr Jordaan said the project had created additional opportunities to grow and develop the relationship between the parties, adding that while all of these are still very much in the discussion phase, she is excited to see what the future holds.