Delana Finlayson, CEO of the Hermanus Varsity Trust (HVT) is excited. “We’re on a roller coaster ride at the Varsity; lockdown has opened up so many possibilities for us, especially in the field of digital education. Our target group is the youth and they’re hungry for anything digital. There are all sorts of brilliant projects planned for next year, but right now, our first consideration is to offer support to local matric students – and, for that matter, Grades 10 and 11 as well.”

Qhamani Mafilikane started at Hermanus Varsity with no knowledge of computers. She has since joined the Excel for Business Course and is passing modules with marks above 80%.

HVT is tapping into a telematic system operated by Stellenbosch University which offers review packages for all the main Grade 12 subjects. Live presentations are given in real time by a panel of what Delana refers to as “brilliant, passionate and inspirational teachers”. These are interactive sessions, but they are also available in recorded form. Students will be able to log into them from home, but if they do so from the Varsity Hub, there will be local facilitators on hand (specialists in the particular subject being covered), who will be able to lead a discussion on the work or clarify issues. Unfortunately, because of lockdown regulations, no more than 20 students will be able to attend these sessions at a time.

“What we would really like to see,” says Delana, “is a situation where as many students as possible obtain Bachelor’s passes. More especially, we are hoping that borderline students will make use of this opportunity, those who without this extra boost, might just miss the cut-off point to obtain a tertiary-level pass. This support programme is absolutely free to the learner and we’re starting it this very week, when the Grade 12s are back at school.”

For those who aren’t able to log into the live presentations at the Hub, bandwidth, speed and data availability at home might be a problem, but the Varsity would be happy to set up the system for them on their own laptops. All the information about the content and how to sign up for this programme, including study material and workbooks for Grades 10 and 11, can be found on the Varsity website, www.hermanusvarsity.co.za.

“We’re introducing so many exciting courses next year that we’re hoping many of this year’s matriculants, especially those who for one reason or another are not able to leave Hermanus for further study, will register for one of them,” says Delana. “Lockdown has given us the time and space, not only to restructure our programme, but also to add new courses, especially in the digital and technological fields.

“All courses now fall under one of several Schools at the Varsity,” she explains: Business Leadership (including courses like Project Management); Environmental studies (including law enforcement and conservation, with an internship at CapeNature); Aquaculture (with courses designed by Stellenbosch University), Agro-Ecology, and Music and Art, under the leadership of Prof Caroline van Niekerk.

“Music courses are being certificated by Stellenbosch University and the London School of Music, giving us an international connection. We are also working with Stefné van Dyk of the Handevat Foundation and her team, for practical training and the hugely exciting initiative to establish an Overstrand orchestra. Our Visual Arts programme will be launched next year, with the emphasis on marketable skills like graphic design. We are also hoping to mount an art exhibition at the Hub at the end of the year, pandemic permitting.”

Safety protocols such as mask wearing and social distancing are practised at the HVT Hub.

A School of Education is being established in partnership with Stadio, the tertiary arm of Curro, starting with an ECD Higher Certificate, incorporating a strong music component. Depending on interest, a B Ed will also be introduced. Another project under the auspices of the School of Education will be a Career Guidance Centre. Students will be able to undergo professional psychometric testing, as well as career counselling. Most local schools don’t have this facility and as Delana emphasises, no one wants to land up as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, simply for lack of insight into the kind of career that would suit them best.

Another innovative School currently being developed is the School of Digital Studies under the enthusiastic leadership of Torben Pheiffer, with his 20 years of international experience in this field. These courses will focus on providing young people with skills for local employment – incidentally, a great option for those wanting to work from home.

“Of course there is a need for a certain aptitude for this field of study,” he says, “but we can give them the necessary skills and a choice of options and then it’s up to them to take the ball and run with it. We’ve divided the courses into four streams: Digital Project Management is for naturally collaborative people, structured in thinking and approach and who value creating results through teams; Digital Technology would suit the stereotypical techie nerd, as it involves deep concentration and hours of focus while coding. We will provide a basis in several languages – HTML, Javascript and Python.

“Then there’s Data Analytics, enabling students to capture data from different sites and create strategic reports for scenario planning, for example. The last is Digital Content, which includes courses in videography, photography and copywriting. The emphasis is on practical product development for the creative personality who wants to get into web design or the production of marketing material. A year in length, it starts with a foundational overview of all four disciplines lasting six months. The following six months are spent specialising in one of the four streams. The basic requirement for digital development is, of course, the availability of ubiquitous, reliable fibre connectivity. We must band together as a community to make this available in the Overstrand. ”

So! Instead of falling into a state of lethargy, HVT is clearly riding a wave of creative productivity. “Sometimes it all seems totally overwhelming,” laughs Delana, “but it’s so inspiring that it keeps me on my toes; it’s great to be part of such an exciting team and while we’re going full steam ahead to meet the educational needs of the community, we’re having fun as well. What more could you ask?”

Registration for all 2021 HVT courses will take place this month. Please check the website: www.hermanusvarsity.co.za.

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