Bergville Careers Day – February 2011

The School of Electrical & Information Engineering, together with the help and administration of the Bergville Community Builders (BCB) and the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers (SAIEE) has supported the Bergville community over the years. Bergville is located in KwaZulu-Natal at the foothills of the Drakensberg mountain ranges (facing Mont-Aux-Sources). Postgraduates and the occasional staff members have visited the community in its beautiful natural environment for the purpose of exposing the school children to science and technology.

The Bergville Community Builders comprises successful members of the Bergville community who feel the necessity for education in their respective industries. Their aim is expose their community school learners to future careers afforded to them by a solid educational base. This is done by organising various educational events throughout the year. The successes of these events have drawn many other professionals from outside Bergville area to come and assist with the intention of copying the BCB model to their communities as well.

The relationship between the BCB and the School of Electrical & Information Engineering of the University of the Witwatersrand started in 2008 with the involvement of the SAIEE (South African Institute of Electrical Engineers) in line with National Science Week. Since then, the School of Electrical & Information Engineering with the help of Viv Crone from the SAIEE and Nhlanhla Maphalala, the chairperson of the BCB, has been able to support and attend various annually organised events; which include exposing learners to aspects of Science and Technology (National Science Week), providing learners with advice and guidance on a wide spectrum of careers (Bergville Career’s Day) and assisting the teachers of the Bergville community with tutoring programmes aimed at enhancing their knowledge of Science. All events accommodate the 32 high schools of the Bergville area.

In the beginning of February 2011, the School of Electrical & Information participated in the Bergville community’s Careers Day. The aim of the day was to expose the high school children of the local community to many different careers. The event was organised by BCB and held on Saturday the 5th of February at the Amangwane High School. There were a number of awards that were presented at the event that were based on matric marks from the previous year, namely:

  1.       The school with the highest number of batchelor passes (or exemptions)
  2.       The school with most consistent pass rate over the last past 5 years
  3.       The school with the highest number of combined passes in Maths, Science and Accounting (SAIEE award)
  4.       A best performing ward in Bergville Circuit (A cluster of schools)
  5.       Learner with best matriculation results

Joyce Namakoye was one of the three postgraduate students, joined by Justin Cornelius and Caroline Mampane, who were invited to participate. Here is Joyce’s account on her experiences:

“On our way to the career exhibition venue, we saw school learners walking briskly to the event, most of them excited. We arrived at the venue a little after 9am. Loud house music emanated from the Public Address system, while learners from different schools danced excitedly. Assembly was called and prayers were said. Two songs were sung, led by beautiful high pitched voices. I must say the singing was very touching, the kind of beautiful African songs that make tears well up in your eyes. When the speeches began, they were mostly in isiZulu with a few English words here and there. I could only decipher from context. There were speeches from delegates from the South African department of education. Awards were given to the best performing schools and learner. Learners whose schools won awards jumped and shouted excitedly. Some even had celebratory dances. Mr. Viv Crone presented the SAIEE award to the school with the highest number of combined passes in Maths, Science and Accounting.

It was finally time to showcase what engineering was all about. We set up our demo equipment in one of the classrooms. We had several demos illustrating electricity and magnetism, software engineering and high voltage systems. The first group of learners sauntered in. Most seemed curious about engineering and listened keenly. They were amazed at how the magnets could vibrate in one’s hand. We had to explain that this was because there was a magnetic field close by. One learner was particularly curious about lightning and vacuums. They asked questions about what it took to get admitted to Wits for engineering. They all worried about the high grades and fees for the course. However we urged them to continue working hard as there were bursaries available for excellent school performance. About 6 sessions were held with each session having an average of 30 learners. Most had curious faces and I must admit I felt inspired and humbled at the same time. I was glad to be part of a team disseminating this kind of information to youngsters that needed it.

I must say the highlight of the trip was the look on the young faces. The eagerness, the willingness to learn and the admiration of the engineering profession which we take for granted. And yet at the same time there was hopelessness and a lack of confidence at the mention of Mathematics and Science and the cut off grades for engineering. Bergville is a great opportunity for engineers to encourage young people to pursue the engineering profession. It was worth the fatigue and the getting lost twice on the way there and I would like to urge those who can make it to go out on the next careers day. I guarantee you will leave a changed person, even if only slightly.”


By Nicholas West and Yu-Chieh (Jessie) Liu