Social Work lecturer Dr Thembelihle Makhanya and UKZN alumnus and social scientist at the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), Dr Dumsani Gumede received awards for the Best Research Paper at the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS)Alumni Annual National Conference in Gauteng. The conference theme was The Role of Humanities and Social Sciences in the South African Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan.
A number of papers were presented at the conference, with four regarded as best papers as they were relevant and well-articulated and met the requirements and the theme of the conference.
Makhanya emerged as a winner for her research that explored the perspectives of social work graduates in an African university. Gumede’s research explored the perceptions held by health sciences students of rural origin of the support programme offered by the Umthombo Youth Development Foundation (UYDF) to undergraduate students in South Africa.
Makhanya’s study also focused on colonisation’s impact on social work education and practice. She explored how the University is responding or its failure to respond to the call for decolonisation of South African education. She focused on the extent to which South African university training either roots African students within their experiences, value systems, languages, cultures, epistemologies and philosophies, or uproots them.
‘Calls persist for a decolonial South African University that is founded on the needs of the poor and social work education that is free from colonial pedagogical and epistemological teaching and learning,’ said Makhanya. ‘It is fundamental for universities offering social work education in South Africa to focus on transformation, not only in terms of quantity access but in terms of an African-centred curriculum.’
Gumede examined the different processes that are part of the UYDF support programme. This comprehensive, multifaceted initiative includes compulsory social and academic mentoring and comprehensive financial support. The processes include orientation and information sharing; on-going support (life skills); monthly communication with a local mentor; bi-annual visits from a UYDF mentor and compulsory practical exposure during university holidays.
Gumede concluded that these processes are proactive and assist students to find solutions when they face challenges. The students’ perceptions were generally positive with initial orientation and information sharing perceived as useful as it bridges the gap between high school and University and assists students to set goals and targets that will be monitored by local mentors and the UYDF. The support required appeared to diminish with increasing years of study.
Gumede recommended that, ‘the support programmes should prioritise students in their early years of study as this was found to have a positive impact on students’ ability to cope and to make a positive contribution to throughput.’