Leading | Connecting | Learning

Tertiary Access & English Olympiad Support



The project provides Zenex Foundation-supported learners an opportunity to participate in the English Olympiad, a prestigious school level national competition that aims to foster love for and competence in the English language. Grade 12 learners are further supported to access bursaries and higher education opportunities.

Name of Organisation / service provider: Tsebo Education Network (TEN); Environment and Language Education Trust (ELET)

Duration of Project: One Year, 2016

Programme: Schools Programme

Where is the Project based: Province, National


1. Introduction

ELET and TEN provide value added support to the learners in the Foundation’s Inkanyezi and ISASA Mathematics & English Projects. This value added support includes offering financial support for learners to participate in an English Olympiad competition and providing preparatory workshops through ELET to coordinate and project manage learner attendance at the National Schools Festival in Grahamstown. Through TEN, the tertiary access project offers support for learners to apply to universities and to access bursary funding for their studies.

2. Tertiary Access Support

The goal of the tertiary access project (TAP) is to support Zenex Grade 12 learners to gain access to tertiary education in Mathematics and Science fields. This is done through assisting learners with the applications process, to help them complete bursary applications and to provide bridging finance for registration fees, whilst bursaries are being processed. In addition, learners engage in a skills workshop that orients them to university life and teaches them the importance of time management, budgeting and using the library as well as other support facilities at the university. This workshop assists learners to develop life and coping skills in the first year of university to help them with the transition between school and university.

2.1 Problems to be addressed

An analysis of the National Senior Certificate results shows that there is a small pool of learners that could access careers in Mathematics and Science because of both the quality of passes and the access to information and finances. Research by Stats SA, HSRC and the Department of Higher Education shows that only 12% of Black Grade 12 learners gain access to higher education and, of these, only 5% are successful in completing their studies. These learners have limited social and financial capital in families to help with the process of tertiary studies as most often they are first generation university students.

Zenex works with Black (Africa, Indian and Coloured) learners from disadvantaged socio economic backgrounds and whilst the majority of these learners qualify for university entrance, they continue to face challenges accessing university. This is often due to lack of guidance and support at schools, together with the lack of access to information regarding bursary support, challenging university application criteria and an inability to pay registration fees. These factors hinder access to tertiary education in Mathematics and Science related fields. More specifically the challenges include:

  • Limited funding options open to learners who are not successful at obtaining bursaries. Loan options are mostly split between the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) option and commercial loan options as offered by banks and other similar institutions. In the case of commercial options, affordability and repayment potential are taken into account when awarding loans and with most learners coming from poor backgrounds, this option is not accessible to them.
  • The limited pool of bursaries available in the ‘market place’ all target the same group of top learners, often leaving the next level of learners without bursary options.

Thus while Zenex Foundation has provided a three- or five-year in-school support programme, and while opportunities exist for tertiary education in the form of bursaries and loans, Zenex learners are unable to access these opportunities without support.

2.2 implementation Strategy

Career guidance and tertiary applications: Although the TAP is aimed at benefiting Grade 12 learners, career guidance evaluations are conducted for learners in their Grade 11 year. Individual career guidance assessments are conducted and individual reports compiled for feedback with each learner. This involves support to help learners with selecting at least three suitable options of career choices. Learners are provided with general information on the world of work, career fields, careers within each field and qualifications relating to specific careers, based on the recommendations contained in each learner’s personal career guidance report, identifying suitable tertiary institutions that offer the qualifications identified as options to learners. Thereafter, they are assisted with the accurate and comprehensive completion of application forms, with required supporting documentation.

Maximising access to funding for tertiary studies: Learners from poor backgrounds are often limited by the lack of financial resources to apply to tertiary institutions. This project component will provide each learner with the funding required to pay for one application fee to a tertiary institution as well as the fee required for writing the compulsory National Benchmarking Tests. As with tertiary application forms above, TEN assists learners with obtaining all possible bursary application forms relevant to the identified qualifications and complete and submit those with all supporting documentation required, on behalf of learners. TEN further provides motivation to potential bursars providing detail on the Zenex Foundation programme that learners participated in which should count as an advantage in awarding such learners with bursaries.

Provision of bridging funding to pay for registration fees until bursaries pay out to students: Learners are often faced with a timing difference between when they need to pay registration fees/deposits at tertiary institutions and when their bursaries pay out to them. While institutions require first payments to be made before students commence with their academic year, bursaries often only pay out to students during March or April, resulting in students not being able to pay the required deposits to secure their places at institutions and to commence with attending classes.

Provision of bridging life skills support to ensure successful transition from school to tertiary environments: Learners, especially from rural environments, are often unprepared for the transition onto a campus, in a city. This project activity aims to prepare learners for that transition so that they can adapt to the new environment quicker and in a less traumatic way. The bridging workshop includes topics such as the differences between how a school and tertiary institution operates, taking responsibility for themselves, time management, financial management, understanding what bursary funders expect in return for funding studies and students’ responsibilities.


Zenex has been supporting learners to participate in the English Olympiad and to attend the English Festival in Grahamstown since 2008. ELET has since been the partner providing support to Grade 12 learners to participate in the Olympiad exam and attend the English Festival. Since the start, Zenex have taken learners from the learner support projects in Independent and Public schools to the festival with increasing success in learner participation and achievement levels in the Olympiad. A total of 679 learners have participated in the Olympiad exams in the period 2012 to 2015. Each year between 45 and 55 learners are selected to attend the Schools Festival in Grahamstown.

The Olympiad serves to provide disadvantaged learners with the opportunity to participate in the English Olympiad, a prestigious school level national competition that aims to foster love for and competence in the English language. The objective is to enrich the study of English language and to encourage critical thinking and creative writing. As learners are selected on merit to attend the Grade 12 English Festival in Grahamstown, it serves as an incentive project with prestige to the participants.

3.1 Problems to be addressed

The ability of learners with English as First Additional Language is often compromised as their aural, oral and text exposure to the language is generally limited. Language competence is a prerequisite for learning across the curriculum as well as accessing academic language in further education courses. There is often a lack of motivation to improve language particularly beyond basic communicative competence. There is a general lack of promotion of higher order thinking skills as evidenced by the results of the PIRLS (Progress in Reading Language Skills) 2006 study.

3.2 How does the intervention go about addressing these problems?

The project provides materials and support to Zenex learners to enter the English Olympiad. This adds value to the Curriculum Vitae of the learners as well as when they apply for bursaries as they receive certificates showing extended abilities in co-curricular activities. There is also the added incentive of qualifying to attend the Grade 12 English Festival in Grahamstown. ELET provides support for learners by way of preparation for the exams. The candidates attend a workshop over a period of five Saturdays or other suitable days. As part of the project, tips on how to write essays, addressing language issues and challenges and examining the conventions of the different forms of writing are covered. A mock examination is set on the penultimate meeting date. The exam will be similar in style to the previous Olympiad exams. The mock exam scripts are marked and general feedback on learners’ performance is given at the final meeting date. Learners that achieve well in the exams are incentivised and attend the Schools Festival for five days.


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