Mentorship is cornerstone of students’ success in Higher Education

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This reflection is at the backdrop of the fact that the period (February) is when multitudes of students start their academic journeys in Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) in South Africa.

Some students are commencing with their first year, while others are advancing with their study programmes from second year and beyond. The start of new journey present exciting opportunities and unimaginable challenges for first year students transitioning from basic education to higher education in the context of South Africa, Africa and globally.

Students from basic education to higher education are confronted with multiple complex challenges that affect them which include but not limited to adopting to new environment, different learning and teaching methods, slightly extreme workload and academic expectations, for example, at IHE a pass mark is 50% compared to 30% at basic education. The challenges are worse for students coming from black, poor, and working-class conditions who studied in rural and township schools, their challenges among others are culture shocks, lack of funding and study resources and accommodation issues.

As a point of departure, I write this reflection leaning on my experience of 12 years to date (2024) serving at Faculty of Best Advisory (FBA), an organisation that has a great mentorship programme (FBA, 2024). In addition, I worked as a mentor for the At-Risk Mentorship programme between 2014-2015 under Careers Counselling and Development Leadership Unit (CCDU) at University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and later as a mentor at Edgerly-Franklin Leadership Programme between 2019-2020, at Staley School of Leadership Studies, Kansas State University. Beyond this, I have invested time historically and presently designing, researching, teaching, and studying mentorship.

Mentorship plays a fundamentally important role in shaping student journey holistically. Mentorship simply put, is the practice of walking a journey with someone. Students who receive mentorship support have a better chance of progressing academically. Beyond academic realm, mentors provide invaluable guidance fostering personal and professional growth of mentees. For both mentors and mentees, they learn valuable 21st century skills such as critical thinking, goal setting, networking, and navigating the complexities of IHE and subsequently the world of work.

As mentors share their experiences, transfer their knowledge and skills to mentees, mentees gain insights that textbook knowledge cannot offer, enhancing their holistic development. Mentees as they engage in a progressive relationship with their mentors equally learn values such as ubuntu and practices of active citizenship which will prepare them to be agents of change in society. Collectively, mentors and mentees build connections and networks that could be long lasting.

The positive of mentorship for mentors is that, for their acts of service they are adding hours and will be able to have references on their Curriculum Vitae (CV) and further be recommended for bursaries, scholarships, and/or fellowships. A student that becomes mentored and/or mentors has a competitive urge over their peers academically and in the world of work.

I for one attribute my life progress to the mentorship I have received and continue to receive from my mentors as well as for being a mentor to my mentees. In sum, the clarion call I am making is that, I highly recommend all students across IHE to join organizations with mentorship programmes such as FBA and others, to seek mentorship and to be mentors, after all, we are the beautiful ones we have been waiting for. This is, of course, an unfolding story that the best pages of it are yet to be written, and indeed a journey towards total emancipation in our lifetime and beyond.

Mafule Moswane is the Board Chairperson of Faculty of Best Advisory, he is the alumni of both University of the Witwatersrand (SA) and Kansas State University (USA).

He writes in his personal capacity.