School learners from underserved communities, especially rural communities, who would normally have little or no chance of accessing higher education, are provided the necessary skills and opportunity to follow a career in science through an innovative programme at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS), Stellenbosch University (SU).
The Area Health Education Centre (AHEC) was established at the faculty in 2013 to function as a “pipeline” for recruiting youth from rural communities into the health professions. The programme, undertaken in collaboration with the Western Cape Department of Education, offers mathematics and science tuition to selected learners from three rural districts in the Western Cape, namely the West Coast (Malmesbury), Cape Winelands (Worcester) and Overberg (Caledon).
AHEC developed from the Stellenbosch University Medical Education Partnership Initiative Programme (SURMEPI) that focuses on improving the quality and quantity of medical students from rural areas.
AHEC participants are grade 7 to 12 learners selected by the Western Cape Department of Education. The learners have to achieve an average of 65% for mathematics and science to be admitted to the programme. Learners in the AHEC programme receive mathematics and science tuition either in after-school sessions or holiday schools. Transport is provided for learners to and from the centres where they receive tuition.
There are currently a total of 334 learners in the AHEC programme - 90 learners in grades 8 and 9, between 50 to 70 learners in grades 10 and 11 and 28 learners are enrolled in the grade 12 group.
In addition AHEC Grade 11 learners who perform above grade are eligible to form part of the Hope@Maties programme of the Stellenbosch University Centre for Pedagogy (Suncep) that further strengthens mathematics and science for matric learners.
To date 34 AHEC alumni are studying at SU and of the 34 students there are five completing various programs at the FMHS.
“This is an amazing partnership between SU and the Department of Education that provides learners from rural disadvantaged communities’ access to universities like Stellenbosch by giving them the necessary tools to get there,” says Lindsay Meyer, AHEC coordinator.