Placing high quality education within the reach of disadvantaged high school learners and fostering a culture of giving back is at the heart of the Dimension Data Saturday School Programme (DDSSP). The global IT giant launched the second chapter of its DDSSP in Port Elizabeth on March 7; the first chapter started over two decades ago. Since 1995, it has cultivated the academic prowess of around 2000 learners per day in Gauteng.
This year, the new chapter has an intake of 20 learners from various township schools around Port Elizabeth, which it aims to increase to 100 next year. The programme’s success in Gauteng is illustrated in its pupils’ consistent 100% matric pass rate, with some of its “shining stars” succeeding in challenging fields of studies such as actuarial sciences, IT, engineering and accounting.
The company prides itself in making education accessible to the country’s youth through digital inclusion and skills development, says Kirsty Phaal, Dimension Data’s Middle East and Africa head of talent and development.
“I would think we are close to 1 000 students. We took in an average of 100 per year since 2011. We have so many shining stars who have come through that ecosystem of starting out with Saturday school, being identified, obtaining bursaries and going on to do well at university. We are happy to see how the evolution in our ecosystem coming together from school all the way through to employment. There’s a multitude who have been successful — the programme does not just produce IT students,” says Phaal.
The DDSSP is the company’s flagship Corporate Social Responsibility initiative and aims to improve the quality of lives of previously disadvantaged youth. The company hires professional tutors who provide quality and targeted education to the learners in mathematics, physical science, English, life sciences, computer studies, coding, leadership and entrepreneurial skills, mentorship and life skills.
Its alumni’s success in the corporate sector is predicated by stellar matric results that they credit to the programme.
Andrew Meyer, Dimension Data regional executive, Eastern Cape, says: “We are excited to expand the life-changing influence the Saturday School has had on young learners in Gauteng to our province. We are looking forward to many more years of success and many more learners benefiting from the supplemental learning to their school curricula.”
Among the alumni of the DDSSP is Siphiwe Lebese, who credits the programme for his perfect score for maths in matric. This achievement ultimately opened the way for him to pursue his dream of studying actuarial science at Wits, complete with bursaries. He is now a capital management specialist at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings.
“When you get to Grade 10 you start to do real stuff and my marks dropped to the 70s and 80s. I knew that I wanted to be an actuary and wanted to get A’s in maths and science, and I also needed better marks to get a bursary which would support me through Wits. Dimension Data Saturday school came in when I needed them the most. It’s the school of excellence. In matric I got 100% for maths and I knew nothing would stand in the way of my dream of becoming an actuary,” says Lebese.
Setting the bar higher
Kamo Molaba, whose journey with the DDSSP started in January 2014, says the programme sets the bar high and encourages the learners to reach higher.
“When I first came in, I was an average learner according to Dimension Data standards. In my first test I got 10%. I might have been the lowest, but the Dimension Data Saturday School Programme does not allow you to dwell on failure, you fail forward,” says Molaba, who is now an IT graduate through a bursary she obtained from Dimension Data.
Support from tutors and mentors helped find her drive, and she improved so much that she emerged as the top student in the programme in her matric year. “By the end of matric I had gotten seven distinctions and was top of my class.”
She says the programme allowed learners to dream beyond their dire circumstances. “In matric we went to University of Johannesburg; although that may be insignificant to someone else, to me it meant that my dreams are about to become a reality. I could see for the first time that university was the next step and that dream was tangible. Shortly after that we were allowed to job schedule and got to see what happens in the IT world.”
Karabo Sephofane says despite getting four distinctions, his chances of going to university looked bleak, until he won a bursary through a Dimension Data partner.
“At the end of matric I passed with four distinctions. I got shortlisted for a scholarship and it’s through Dimension Data that I managed to get a full scholarship from one of their partners. It covered tuition costs, accommodation costs, food and allowances. My dad did not even have to worry about money for bread and that bursary made my university journey a bit easier. After all this journey I am graduating for the second time with BSc honours,” says Sephofane.
He says the DDSSP exposes learners to world-class facilities that allow an integrated approach to teaching and learning. “You have access to technology, so when you get to university you will know how to operate a computer and how to easily adapt to that environment. The commitment you learn from Saturday school will stay with you throughout your life. This journey will challenge learners to manage time; for me that came in handy during my university years.”
He says the impact went beyond the participants of the programme and had a generally positive social impact. “You share the information you receive, so there is a multiplier effect. You share with your classmates and your classmates share with their neighbours from other schools. Ultimately there is a wider impact.”
Sephofane says the teachers at the DDSSP lead by example when it comes to discipline. “You can tell that they take their impact seriously. And for us they were not just teachers, they were constant sources of motivation — we saw it in their approach and how they conducted themselves.”
Molaba says the support from Dimension Data continues after learners have gone to university. “The first year in varsity is very daunting and we saw many of our peers dropping out. The experience was different for us, because we got all the support we needed. Programme manager Mr Shakes was always a call away. I was fortunate to get a bursary from Internet Solutions, a division of Dimension Data. The experience got even better when they introduced the mentorship programme. They walk with you and we could talk to them about CVs and assignments. We are still paying it forward.”
She says the connections the students make at Dimension Data are long-lasting. “Dimension Data gifted me with lifelong friends. The friends I made at Dimension Data are now all over corporate South Africa and they are my source of support and my biggest motivators.”
Molaba encourages the learners from Port Elizabeth who will start their journey with the DDSSP to grab the opportunity and stay the course. “It is not easy waking up on a Saturday when you could be having fun or just relaxing. But when you think about your background and how uncomfortable it is and you look at the future, you realise that it is all worth it. When I look at the rising unemployment figures I realise that that could have been me. I could have been swallowed by all of that, but Dimension Data was there with me throughout my journey, I am very grateful that it’s not my story.”
Accounting teacher at DDSSP Jamie-Lee Reynolds says Dimension Data’s “diamond in the rough” approach to recruiting learners for the programme shows a commitment to make a difference.
“When I went to the interview for this job at Dimension Data, they did not say they wanted top learners, they said they wanted learners with potential. That struck a chord with me and I knew as a teacher that I wanted to be part of this programme. Last year we got a 100% pass rate. The learners were committed to getting the marks and they were committed to passing themselves.”
Port Elizabeth-based maths teacher Dumisani Mali urges the parents to give learners moral support. “One thing that should be the driving factor is, when an investor puts money into a project, there must be a return on that investment. There is an opportunity for learners who are here to change their lives. In five to six years’ time they have a real opportunity to be at completely different level.
“We will be working for the next 48 weeks. We have to go an extra mile, given that this programme is in Nelson Mandela Metro for the first time.”