South Africa: New Directions for Summer School in Its 70th Season

In January 2020 the University of Cape Town's perennial Summer School will celebrate its 70th season of public education. With a new home in UCT's Development and Alumni Department (DAD) and in line with the university's broader transformation objectives, the school is hard at work to secure its future by diversifying its audiences and offering. Their goal is to foster an informed and engaged citizenry through lifelong learning and Africa-focused content.

Summer School will be held in the Kramer Building on middle campus from 6 to 25 January. The Centre for Extra Mural Studies' (EMS) flagship programme, Summer School is unique in South Africa and Africa and an important contributor to the university's outreach.

Service to community

Director of EMS Dr Medee Rall said, "For many it offers the only chance of entering university; for others it consolidates the relationship of students, alumni, and staff with their institution."

Its history began as a service to the country. The first Summer School was planned in 1949 (for a start the following year) to offer courses for servicemen who'd returned after World War 2. In February 1953 a small EMS staff mounted the first distinctive Summer School, titled Southern Africa in Perspective. Attendances grew over the years to create a special brand of lifelong learning and connection to UCT.

It has moved from a programme of 45 to 47 courses of mostly five-lectures, and two Saturday courses to the current programme of 122 lectures of two, three and five courses, and presentations on all three Saturdays for people who work.

Several challenges

But in a climate of austerity, sustainability and transformation, the school faced several challenges in later years.

First is a financial challenge as the school must be self-sustaining. This is one of the reasons EMS and the Summer School are now housed in DAD, the university's fund-raising arm. (More than one-third of Summer School attendees are UCT alumni.)

"Financially, we are looking at securing an endowment or three-to-five-year sponsorship (with Summer School naming rights) to secure our future," said Rall.

Given the Summer School's aim of growing inclusivity and diversity among its audiences, increasing ticket prices (or reducing staff tariffs) is not feasible, she added. Instead, the team have cut costs by introducing online registrations and reducing part-time staff.

The second challenge relates to audiences. Seen as an elite institution, "on the hill" and "not for us", among a large section of the city, EMS has responded by taking Summer School to the public, partnering with communities and groups that UCT doesn't currently reach.

"We want to build bridges between two intellectual publics: one institutionally based and the other organically grown from within communities."

"We want to build bridges between two intellectual publics: one institutionally based and the other organically grown from within communities," said Rall. "We see this in our evaluations; how important it is to have access to learning for a generation of people who didn't have access."

As a result, they have built partnerships with:

UCT's Schools Improvement Initiative's 100 UP project and the Gill Net Project

SAILI Scholarships, an organisation that focuses on maths and science and provides scholarships for academically talented pupils

IkamvaYouth project for disadvantaged youth

Just Grace, community upliftment programmes in Langa so that its people are empowered to be active citizens.

Catholic Welfare and Development (CWD) Athlone Cultural Hub, and the U3A in Athlone

Cornerstone Institute

The first four partnerships are aimed at grades 10 to 12 learners to prepare them for tertiary studies; the CWD Athlone Cultural Hub at adults; and the Cornerstone Institute at university students, to expose them to various disciplines.

"We aim to extend to the Philippi Hub too [the GSB Solution Space is located in Philippi Village]," said Rall.

The team have also introduced Summer School extension lectures, taking UCT's research into the community. And to reach global audiences, the work of alumni officers at UCT Chapters aims to make course content and lectures available on podcast and video on the Summer School YouTube channel.

Engaged scholarship, active citizenry

The third challenge concerns content and presenters. EMS plays a valuable role in the university's social responsiveness by offering courses on key contemporary issues and UCT's scholarship by its top researchers.

"Our flexible annually reinvented curriculum gives EMS the advantage of being able to respond immediately to national or international developments and breaking news," said Rall.

They have also launched the Young Scientists series to give UCT's new PhD students a chance to showcase their research to wider audiences. For example, this year, PhD candidates Nomawethu Hlazo and Robyn Humphries of the Department of Archaeology will present a course titled 'The South African fossil record: Changing narratives of human evolution'.

"As for content, the team has worked hard to transform its offerings to reach new and different audiences - and increase the African lens."

As for content, the team has worked hard to transform its offerings to reach new and different audiences - and increase the African lens. This is not a new feature, however. A recent EMS review mentions that during the 1950s extension lectures were offered in Langa and country districts and the department formed a partnership with the Institute of Citizenship.

In the 1960s, two community projects were initiated and in-service courses at St Francis Adult Education Centre were mounted. In the '80s EMS retrained adult educators to reconstruct educational practice and strengthened its community adult education projects.

Later, Summer School lectures were presented in Paarl and Worcester - and even aboard a Durban-bound holiday cruise ship!

"Now our extension lecture programme spans the university's teaching disciplines and keeps the public abreast of what innovative research and scholarship have to say about key issues that arise in our natural and social world," said Rall.

Their new home in DAD provides new opportunities to market course to alumni at special events around the country throughout the year. As the Legacy Society attracts bequests from Summer School participants, a dedicated Summer School Legacy Society has been established. This year's speaker will be Hermione Cronje, head of the Investigating Directorate in the Office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions.

Rall said they are also keen to create partnerships with NGOs that have their focus in lifelong learning, education, and social responsibility and "we talk a lot about creating active citizens".

The future

The imperative that EMS becomes fully funded has seen the programme extend to three weeks to allow the team to experiment with smaller, practically orientated courses, and possibly some non-fee-paying courses) where the presentations will be more interactive. What is envisaged are two parallel programmes that will feed off each other and transform both campus and community.

The aim is to avoid separating the intellectual and practical along old racial divides, with off-campus engagements "ghettoise community".

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