Commitment, drive, passion secret to TRAC South Africa’s success

“It is my delight to state that due to the successful implementation of the TRAC programme, our Grade 12 Physical Sciences pass rate dramatically improved from 18% in 2017 to an outstanding 82% in 2018. This achievement caused the school to be recognised by the Premier’s Office of the Western Cape for an award for the most improved school in Physical Sciences in the entire Province,” stated Nelisa Hopa, acting Principal at the Bardale Secondary School in Mfuleni, Cape Town, in a letter to the Director of TRAC SA, Debbey Olivier, in August this year.

Ms Hopa continues: “This was a proud moment for us as a school and we are convinced that we would not have been able to achieve these results without the support of the TRAC programme with its dedicated staff. The school is in an impoverished area with a very high unemployment rate. It is through the support of individuals and corporate representatives like you that we are able to continue to strengthen our schools, and develop our learners especially those that come from underprivileged backgrounds and impoverished communities.”

This letter is indeed a good testimonial indicating that the TRAC programme is going from strength to strength. TRAC South Africa is a national, non-profit intervention programme of the Faculty of Engineering, Stellenbosch University. Started in 1994 by Prof Fred Hugo, TRAC functions from within the Stellenbosch University Department of Civil Engineering. Its initial purpose was to provide support in Physical Sciences to Grade 11 and 12 learners in disadvantaged communities. Today TRAC operates in 19 areas in seven provinces where 25 facilitators engage with more than 7 000 learners in 95 secondary schools in poor communities on a daily basis.

Ms Olivier, who has been the TRAC Director for 13 years, notes: “TRAC strives for excellence in all its endeavours, whilst opening up opportunities to the young people of this country. These opportunities assist learners on their way to becoming valued citizens in meaningful positions within the greater South Africa. The TRAC programme is instrumental in redressing inequalities of the past, by bringing intervention and opportunities of excellence to the most disadvantaged communities in South Africa. We are changing lives – that is what motivates us for tomorrow.”

Prof Jan Wium, member of the TRAC Steering Committee, says: “I am touched by the successes in figures, but more so by the difference the programme makes in the lives of individuals. This can only be achieved through a personal commitment by each staff member. Whilst educational support is most important, I have noticed that the personal interaction with learners and the spirit in which it takes place, are the real contributors to provide learners with hope and vision. A hope and vision to set them on the path from where they can build a future for themselves.”

Over the years, the scope of TRAC’s activities has broadened and now also includes support in Mathematics. Furthermore, participating learners are encouraged to pursue tertiary studies. TRAC personnel go the extra mile to assist qualifying learners to apply to at least three tertiary institutions. The TRAC team also helps learners to apply for bursaries to fund their tertiary studies.

For many years tertiary studies was an unreachable dream for most TRAC learners. In 2012 a mere 9,6% of the TRAC Grade 12 group ventured into studies beyond the secondary level. This number has grown year on year. This year 56,1% are pursuing post-matric studies.

Ms Olivier stresses: “TRAC encourages its top learners to apply to Stellenbosch University. This recruitment drive has gained momentum and demonstrated an increase in the number of first-year students registering at Stellenbosch over the past number of years – from 44 in 2016 to 116 this year. TRAC is proud that 270 prospective students have already been provisionally accepted for studies in 2020. The main challenge for the programme is to assist students to travel from their homes to the campus at the beginning of the academic year. Financial challenges is the main reason why students would end up opting for an institution closer to their homes. In January this year, TRAC assisted 50 students with bus transport to Stellenbosch. The programme is hoping to repeat this venture early next year.”

Hear what some participating learners say

TRAC has changed the lives of many participating learners. The story of Thimna Booi of Uitenhage is a shining example: “When I got introduced to the TRAC programme, I knew that it would take me far. I am now studying B of Nursing and Midwifery at Stellenbosch Tygerberg Campus. I am where I am all because of TRAC. I have never before received such high level of care, support and guidance and I treat them as my family. I am forever grateful to TRAC.”

Siphe Jordan, from the rural town of Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape Province, who is also studying Nursing and Midwifery at Stellenbosch, praises the programme: “Who would have thought a young girl like me would have such a bright future ahead of her? We’re given the mind, the talent, but money has always been a problem. Applying to universities has always been a problem too. Not having sufficient internet, not having enough knowledge about courses and institutions. My love for science introduced me to TRAC, which literally changed everything for me.”

Wayde Francis, from Kraaifontein in Cape Town, and a recipient of a prestigious First-Year Achievement Award from Stellenbosch University, is thankful for the support received from TRAC: “TRAC assisted me to pass my National Senior Certificate exams and guided me towards tertiary studies at my preferred institution – Stellenbosch University, where I am currently studying a BEng in Mechatronics. TRAC also helped me obtain a bursary from the Industrial Development Corporation. TRAC is the extra support structure towards my success story. TRAC ensures that life on campus was more comfortable and less stressful throughout my first year. The motivation and support TRAC offers their students is never ending – it goes beyond high school.”

Mzomhle Kiza, a former TRAC learner from Mfuleni, is now a MBChB graduate from Stellenbosch University. His mother is thrilled about her son’s participation in the TRAC programme. She exclaims: “We really thank TRAC for the contribution made to our children. I cannot believe that my son is now a doctor!”

TRAC’s funding

TRAC South Africa is externally funded and relies on partnerships and donations. Currently, there are eight financial partners that provide donations for the operational running of all TRAC activities. Regarding the funding of TRAC, Ms Olivier explains: “With the economic growth in our country taking a turn for the worse, it has become increasingly more challenging to obtain funding to support the sustainability of TRAC. Organisations donating to TRAC receive the benefit of tax redemption, but furthermore, can also record their support of the programme in terms of their B-BBEEE audit requirements. Donors receive the full value of Socio-Economic Development Contributions as TRAC beneficiaries exceed the proportion criteria on black individuals (85%). TRAC is a structured programme operating in several communities with limited services, rendering donors the ability to collect full marks on the socio-economic development scorecard.”

Gautrain Management Agency, a proud partner, thanks and congratulates TRAC

One of the eight funders is the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA). In May this year, Jack van der Merwe, Chief Executive of GMA, wrote the following letter to Ms Olivier: “The Gautrain Management Agency recently reviewed the results of the 2018 TRAC South Africa programme and noted the remarkable improvement in the academic performance of the benefitting schools. We would like to congratulate your learners on their outstanding achievements and would like to thank you and your team for your excellent leadership in the running of TRAC. Results like these are no doubt linked to your ongoing commitment, drive, passion and motivation for the project and the learners involved. We are certain that the programme has greatly enhanced the teaching and learning experience in class and has restored confidence in learners who struggled with the subject. We are proud to partner with you as our SIP beneficiary. Your tireless efforts are much appreciated. Please convey our gratitude to all that have and are making this such a success. Keep up the good work.”

The Dean says….

The Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Prof Wikus van Niekerk, says: “TRAC is contributing towards the development of our youth and opening up possibilities for them to access tertiary education, a commendable outcome.”

For more information, contact Debbey Olivier here.

Photograph collage:

Left and right: Peer-to-peer learning has been proven to improve academic performance, hence group work is key to the TRAC methodology.

Middle: Practical experiential learning of Physical Sciences takes the sweat out of this “difficult” subject.