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NWU engineers tutor prospective students

Life can be difficult for Grade 11 and 12 learners who have to master challenging subjects such as mathematics in their final years in high school. It can even be more trying when a coronavirus pandemic and its resulting lockdown are added to the mix.

Because mathematics is essential for a career in the engineering sciences, the NWU's Faculty of Engineering joined an initiative to assist learners though online tutorial classes.

The faculty joined forces with the Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre (GMMDC)* to help learners master crucial maths skills and concepts that will form the basis for further university studies.

"We aim to provide our prospective students, in particular matrics, with online tutorial classes," says Prof Liezl van Dyk, executive dean of the faculty. "Our primary purpose is not to replace the school system, but to help the engineers of tomorrow understand and enjoy this very important subject."

Online expertise points the way

The online tutorials are presented by a team of dedicated post-graduate master's degree students. They are Chemical Engineering students Winroe Meyer, Cara Prinsloo and Caitlin van der Merwe, and Mechanical Engineering students Johan de Beer and Berno Laubscher.

Van der Merwe, who is also the project co-ordinator, says classes are adjusted as the needs of the learners change. "The number of tutoring sessions were increased during lockdown and decreased once schools started again. This was done in the best interests of learners and to prevent learning fatigue. We are currently also determining if we will need revision sessions and are planning to present revision tutorials."

The tutorials are done on the Zoom online platform that provides a safe space for learners to ask questions, do mathematics and receive help from tutors at any time.

All the tutors were trained by the GMMDC. They use the study material of the Department of Basic Education's national Curriculum Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS) curriculum. The CAPS curriculum gives teachers detailed guidelines on what to teach and assess on a grade-by-grade and subject-by-subject basis to ensure consistency and quality.

The classes are presented in both English and Afrikaans. Learners use laptops, desktop computers and smartphones to connect through the Internet and access tutorials and learning material.

App and guide promote self-learning

Learners can also access additional resources such as the TouchTutor self-learning guide and the MobiTutorZa app on the tutorial platform.

Through the TouchTutor self-learning guide, learners discover how uncomplicated and effective self-learning can be. The guide helps them to focus their study efforts, record their results, plot their progress and reflect on their successes and challenges as they work through the various topics.

The guide consists of reference material, important terms and definitions, exercises, a record and a reflect page for each topic.

MobiTutorZa is an Android app that is available in the Play Store. It is CAPS-curriculum-related and learners can do self-tests and receive results that contain feedback. It also offers language support in eight indigenous languages. The app can be used to improve maths and science abilities and learners can sign up for monthly challenges.

Reaping the rewards

The online tutorials have been lifelines for learners, as is evident from their feedback.

"It has helped me a lot during the difficult circumstances brought on by the lockdown. I can determine exactly which chapters of mathematics and physical science I struggle," says Juan'e Rabie from Ho"erskool Goudveld. "I now have the opportunity to revise specific chapters and work on exam questions. These are explained step by step by the tutors to help us to fully understand them." Rabie says the tutoring project means a lot to her because it gives her the opportunity to understand the work better. "I believe this will contribute to better achievements in the final exams."

Caitlin Swartbooi from Daniel Pienaar Technical High School says the tutoring lessons have allowed her to revise the work that she has done and also helped her to continue with the curriculum during lockdown. "The lessons have been amazing and I enjoy them a lot. I believe this has given me an advantage over the rest of the pupils in my class because the new work we now do in class is actually revision to me."

She says the tutoring lessons made her more optimistic about writing the final exams at the end of the year. "I appreciate the tutors giving up their time to help me during this difficult time."

"The tutoring project helped me a lot during lockdown. I would not have known what to do without it. It kept my academic boat afloat," says Reuben van Tonder of the Ho"erskool Hans Strijdom.

Prof Van Dyk says although the NWU's initial agreement with the GMMDC to present the online tutorials comes to an end in July, the university is entering the next phase of this project, which will be extended until the end of the academic school year.

* To learn more about the work of the Govan Mbeki Mathematics Development Centre, visit https://mbeki-maths-dev.mandela.ac.za.