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SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION

South African professor’s pay-it-forward bursary scheme for disadvantaged IT students is paying off

South African professor’s pay-it-forward bursary scheme for disadvantaged IT students is paying off
Professor Jean Greyling’s innovative bursary scheme helps young people through school and university. (Photo: Roxy Klein)

Professor Jean Greyling’s students who have benefitted from their own degrees are sponsoring others and even paying for disadvantaged students to join high schools with IT programmes.

Inspired by Jean Greyling, a professor with a vision to find South Africa’s brightest coding minds, hone them and put them on the path to success as early as possible, his students and associates have joined an innovative bursary scheme to shepherd bright young minds through school and university.

Greyling, who is driving the Tanks, Rangers and Boats coding programmes through Tangible Africa, where children – without computers – can learn how to code with the help of cardboard puzzles, is taking his mission up a few steps, and his students and business associates are joining him in droves.

Those who have benefitted from their own degrees with well-paying jobs are now sponsoring students and even paying for disadvantaged students to join high schools with IT programmes. The students are also given psychological and medical support, and a house mother provides the comfort of a parent for those far from home.

And it is paying off. 

Jade du Preez is in her third year of a BSc computer science degree. “Receiving a bursary is something I will be eternally grateful for; I am the first person in my family who will obtain a degree, and I very likely would not have been able to attend university without having received a bursary.

“I can make my parents proud, and I now have the chance to make a better future for myself and my family. My bursary and my studies have opened doors that would otherwise have been entirely shut for me.”

Another matriculant received a private bursary from Amazon’s David Brown, a former student of Greyling’s.

David Brown, the vice-president of Amazon Web Services and an alumnus of Nelson Mandela University and former student of Greyling, provided a bursary to a high school matriculant.

The student, who asked to remain anonymous, said there would have been no other way for him to go to university.

Read more in Daily Maverick: No computer? No problem – visually impaired kids learn to code using old-fashioned puzzles

“I have been left speechless by their generosity. I would not have been able to receive tertiary education without this funding, so it truly means everything to me.”

This student will be starting his journey towards a BSc in computer science next year.

Brown is also sponsoring the school fees for three high school pupils at Alexander Road High School, where they can follow the IT programme.

Liyema Luzi, a first-year student also doing her BSc in computer science, received a bursary from the Banking Sector Education and Training Authority (Bankseta) bursary programme.

Greyling explained that Bankseta was a statutory body established for stakeholders to advance the national and global position of the banking and alternative banking sector. It also provides an innovative bursary scheme to students in information technology that provides medical assistance, psychological support and private tutors.

Zuhayr Khot, whose bursary was sponsored by three businessmen who met Greyling through Tangible Africa, described his elation when he heard the good news.

“Prior to receiving my bursary, I was experiencing a lot of depression and anxiety due to a persistent question that kept coming back to me: ‘How am I going to pay for my university fees?’ … Prof Greyling visited from Gqeberha to ‘lunch and chat’ with me.

We also have business leaders in the IT sector who ‘adopt’ their students as a family member and pay for their studies.

“I had no idea what he had in store for me at the time. He broke the wonderful news to me when we met. A bursary had been offered to me! Everything seemed surreal to me at the time. The best aspect was that I could write right after the news broke, which made my examinations run much more smoothly. The bursary got me to pursue what I love and to believe that no matter what obstacles stand in your way, there is always a way forward.”

Greyling said: “Bursaries change lives. Yesterday, I had a special time in my office. A young matriculant was informed via Zoom by a graduate abroad that he would personally sponsor him his tuition, books and a PC. It has reminded me of how the CEO of a global company seven years ago decided to spend his office’s Christmas gift expenses on bursaries for two of our deserving students. They are now both active in the economy.

“We also have business leaders in the IT sector who ‘adopt’ their students as a family member and pay for their studies but also really stay connected to them throughout their university career and further.”

But Greyling said it is not only the big university learnerships that are making a difference. “Even for as little as R7,000 you can change the life of someone who can get training as an apprentice … It can change their lives.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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