Growing a nation through education

Where are the future engineers coming from, wondered management at Royal HaskoningDHV? This independent engineering and project management consultancy addresses challenges across the world around cities, water, transport and industry. When the dearth of engineering students became apparent in 2007, the company decided to do something about it. 

It started with Saturday School, says Royal HaskoningDHV managing director Salani Sithole: “We realised learners were not confident to study maths and science, and we wanted to help.” Several secondary schools in Alexandra, near Sandton in Johannesburg, were interested in receiving help for their learners. A Saturday tutoring programme was developed, using Royal HaskoningDHV’s own young engineers as tutors in maths, science and technical drawing; it was endorsed by then-deputy director general in the department of education, Penny Vinjevold. 

Initially, senior learners came for Saturday School at the company’s premises in Sandton, but the programme’s success triggered expansion into other areas. “Obviously that meant we had to go to the schools rather than having the learners come to us,” says Pauline Makama, education foundation manager for Royal HaskoningDHV’s Education Foundation. 

Chaired by Dipuo Mvelazi, the Foundation was developed in 2011 to address these and other interventions. “We supported our young engineers who were willing and eager to go out and teach these subjects.” The Saturday School is now held in 14 “adopted” schools across South Africa, in Alexandra, Soshanguve, Cape Town, Pinetown, Pietermaritzburg and Mangaung. Royal HaskoningDHV uses the opportunity of initiatives such as Mandela Day annually to do necessary refurbishments to the adopted schools.

Royal HaskoningDHV invites parents of learners to encourage them to support their children and make them understand the value of a formal, structured programme of education in these difficult subjects, which will open doors for their children in the future.

The Saturday School concept has grown organically: for example, Royal HaskoningDHV realised that there was a huge need for life-skills training. “These learners don’t know about careers they might choose — even in careers aside from engineering, in science, medicine and other fields,” says Makama. 

“They don’t have the knowledge and the confidence to attempt to get into these careers. Through our external bursary programme, we help them, not only with bursaries, but through the application process and arranging transport for them to attend open days at various tertiary institutions.”

Initially, Royal HaskoningDHV was offering bursaries to students from second year, but now, learners who come through the Saturday School programme can apply for a bursary through Royal HaskoningDHV at the end of matric. While still at school, they get invited to Royal HaskoningDHV’s premises for a ‘job-shadowing’ experience that gives them a chance to see a real engineering company at work.

Once they’ve gained their qualification, Royal HaskoningDHV offers internships, which will very often lead to a formal job – and then they’re on their way.

The obvious next step was early childhood development: “That’s where it all begins,” says Makama. “We don’t want an incomplete story.” 

Using accredited education and training institutions, Royal HaskoningDHV is piloting training for untrained crèche workers, who have never been formally employed, in Wards 10 and 11 in Greytown, outside Pietermaritzburg.

“We fund their training as facilitators in early childhood development at crèches. We then assess the crèches where they work and look at what they need,” she says. “We provide tables and chairs and educational toys – and importantly, a first aid kit. We bring the crèche up to a standard which will be recognised by the Department of Education and Training (DET) — and when we launch the early childhood development programme, all the local MECs for the DET, the mayor and other dignitaries attend.”

“From early childhood to adult career — this is how we ‘enhance society together,” says Makama.

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