As the year begins for returning students and first years, some students of specific degrees have been working over the recess for practical course requirements. The strict acceptance process and fiscally heavy privilege of attending any Higher Education institution such as the University of Pretoria has its difficulties beyond the usual classes and exams – as many students that follow professionally-oriented degrees will attest. Teaching, Nursing, Medical as well as Engineering students have practical components that need to be completed as to the fulfilment of their degree programmes and many of these occur over the recess periods.

One such practical component is the Work Integrated Learning module that started on 20 January. Senior Education students will attend Teaching Practises in their respective subject fields and phases, and in schools that they booked in August 2019.

In previous years, practical exposure in many degree programmes would only occur in the final year and in postgraduate environments, but the curriculum structure has changed to expose students to fundamental professional skills from as early as the second year. This earlier practical element correlates with increasing experience requirements for graduates to enter the job market. Understandably these professional modules are both aimed towards the students’ preparation to function in the employment market, as well as to satisfy registration requirements set out by their statutory and professional regulating bodies, such as the Nursing Council and Health Professions Boards which require several hundred supervised clinical hours before a student qualifies to write the theoretical Board Entrance Exam.

“…the curriculum structure has changed to expose students to fundamental professional skills from as early as the second year.”

As a result of these added demands, many students in these degree programmes will tell you that although the university officially starts the first week of February, that they have already been working in schools, clinics, hospitals and mines all over the province and country. Often these practical components are unpaid internships, either as part of a bursary agreement or holiday work to acquire marketable workplace skills. Apart from the further demands and holiday time sacrificed there are extra expenses accrued, such as transport, buying professional clothing/uniforms, accommodation and food. This can take a financial toll not only on the constrained student, leaving them out of pocket, but in many cases their family or rural communities which sponsor these students at their own expense.

Although Thomas Basson, a third-year Senior Phase and FET Education student, feels that “these practicals over the recess breaks ensure that the added workload does not interfere with our theoretical workload scheduled during the academic year.” Other students feel that even with these sacrifices and hard work to qualify many graduates still struggle to find work in the current job market which forces them to search for opportunities overseas such as working on ships or teaching English abroad.

Another option is entrepreneurship where many students such as Basson start their business or end up tutoring, effectively starting and running their own business to support and supplement their academic careers.

The pros and cons of being a student are at times too many to list, yet one truth seems evident, it is a time in a person’s life that not only challenges your perception of the world but forces one to evaluate and develop skills to succeed and be the best version of themselves.