Adopting the habit of working hard from an early age is what secured a bright future for an aspirant mechanical engineer, Olwethu Bitterhout, from the Eastern Cape.

He is one of the 40 beneficiaries from the Class of 2016, who received bursary awards worth R130 000 from the Department of Public Works’ Schools Programme.

Bitterhout matriculated from Solomon Mahlangu Secondary School in the Eastern Cape and obtained seven distinctions.

“The only way I managed to get good results was through hard work. I have been working hard since primary school. I have always been a top achiever. It became a habit to me.

“I just adapted to the processes of studying hard. Being a top learner in my region is not surprising. I have always passed all my subjects with level seven, from primary to high school,” the 18-year-old Bitterhout told SAnews on Friday.

He said maintaining good grades throughout his school years was motivated by a fear of disappointing his parents. “My parents see me as someone who will change their lives.”

Bitterhout hopes to give back to his community once he completes his studies and establishes a career for himself. “Everyone in my community contributed to the person I am today.”

Bitterhout will be pursuing his post-matric qualification at the University of Cape Town, starting his first year in 2017.

There were also two young women amongst the beneficiaries from E.P.P. Mhinga Secondary School in Malamulele in Limpopo, who expressed their gratitude to the Department of Public Works. Both Hlavutelo Baloyi and Saqwadi Chavalala also passed matric with seven distinctions.

The department has made it possible for them to go to university this year, as their parents would otherwise not be able to afford fees for the course they have chosen. They have enrolled with the University of Cape Town to study BSc Actuarial Science.

Chavalala, 18, said she was introduced to the Public Works bursary programme when she was in Grade 11 because of the good grades she achieved in Grade 10, and she has been maintaining the high standard since.

She was brought up by a single mother, who also takes care of Chavalala’s three cousins. Although her mother works, Chavalala said she cannot afford university fees.

Her fellow learner, 16-year-old Baloyi, is one of four children raised by her single mother. She said she was proud of herself for working hard and being awarded the bursary to further her studies.

“University fees are expensive, so this was a relief to my mother as well,” she said.

The two advised the Class of 2017 to never let external factors like community protests affect their studies and focus on their studies. They also called on parents and educators to give learners the necessary support, as this is part of the recipe for getting good marks.

Bursaries and Schools Programme improving lives

Once they complete their post-matric qualifications, the beneficiaries are obligated by the contract they signed with the department to work for Public Works. This means they will not struggle to find employment after graduating.

The R130 000 bursary for each learner covers tuition, accommodation, meals, textbooks, academic resources and monthly allowance.

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said the Schools Programme is part of the Seven-Year Plan to rebuild the department.

The department adopted schools throughout the country from 2013. The selection of the schools is done in collaboration with the provincial education departments.

These are well-performing schools with a learner achievement of 65% and above in Maths and Science; schools with a potential to expand the provision of high quality Maths and Science teaching and learning; schools from disadvantaged communities and schools that display a commitment to hard work and success.

“We were looking for schools in disadvantaged communities that are clearly well-managed and where learners are performing well.

“In an attempt to address built environment skills shortages, Public Works adopted the Council for the Built Environment’s Skills Pipeline Strategy. The strategy spells out three interlinked intervention areas aimed at ensuring a seamless flow of professionals into the department.

“These are the Push Strategy, which is aimed at providing enough competent and skilled professionals in the built environment through supported and funded secondary and tertiary education programmes; the Intermediate Strategy, aimed at training built environment professionals through supported candidacy and mentorship programmes to the level of professional registration, and the Pull Strategy aiming at making the built environment an attractive profession through retention and continuous professional development,” the Minister said.

Nurturing Maths and Science

At the heart of the Schools Programme is the objective of supporting and strengthening the quality of teaching and learning of Mathematics and Sciences in targeted schools.

He said the aim is to promote careers in the built environment and property sectors, and to increase throughput of learners with university entrance passes in Mathematics and Physical Science to pursue built environment careers.

During the award ceremony, the Minister also gave recognition to 33 professionals and 24 internal audit technicians who benefited from the department’s skills development programmes. -