We recently caught up with a very focused and determined Axium alumnus during his university holidays. Give his wise words a read and feel inspired.
Who is Gcobani Mkuti?
I am from the area of ‘Hole in The Wall’ and matriculated from Dudumayo Senior Secondary School in 2015. I was also one of the Axium learners who attended the Ekukhuleni and Study Group programme from 2013 to 2015. I am now studying accounting at the University of Johannesburg.
(Gcobani didn’t “just” matriculate in 2015 – he received a Bachelor’s pass with 86% for Mathematics and 74% for Physical Science.)
What have you been up to since you matriculated in 2015?
After matric I experienced many challenges regarding study and career options because I didn’t really know which choice was right for me. I decided to take a gap year in 2016 so that I could research my options properly. During my gap year I joined the Jumpstart skills programme (facilitated by Jabulani Rural Health Foundation) in Zithulele, which really helped me a lot. Through this I was able to meet many people like an accountant working here in Zithulele who helped me understand more about what kind of work accountants do. I also visited the hospital to see the practical side of being a doctor.
Were you happy about taking a gap year?
I was not happy at the time but I saw it as a good choice. Most of my friends were beginning their studies at universities and they couldn’t understand why I was taking a gap year.
At Axium we often have learners who pass matric but are not able to get into their choice of study. It is often best for these learners to rewrite a few of their subjects and try to apply again the following year but taking a gap year is not something many people have the choice to do here. Did you feel pressured into getting a job to earn money for your family?
I was also rewriting English matric exam during my gap year. My parents were not happy at all because I was not looking for a job. I think my family is proud of me now. I received a lot of affirmation from my sisters, from my friends and from Craig and Ruan at Axium. This really encouraged me. I met a lot of my school friends who encouraged me and gave me affirmation during grade 10 through Axium at their holiday bootcamp.
Making decisions about what do to after school needs a lot of help and support from teachers and parents. You mentioned affirmation and how it helped you. How do you think teachers could improve the way that they affirm and encourage rural learners?
Yes, affirmation is very important. I think that if teachers could positively encourage learners more. In my experience I have always just been taught how to pass. I have not been taught how to actually study by myself and stand alone. I don’t think we are taught how to think for ourselves, to think out of the box and how to believe in ourselves. Teachers should always tell learners that they are capable and that they can do it.
Is there anything you would like to share with other rural learners that would be helpful to them?
I think it is important to have faith, especially at university during difficult times. They need to believe that they can do it. They need to know that they have more than what they see in themselves.
What are your future plans?
The plans I have at the moment are academic. Academically, I want to complete my degree in accounting but my main goal is to become a chartered accountant.
Are you enjoying life in the city of Johannesburg?
Johannesburg is really nice and I am enjoying it but it is nice to come home after a few months. I didn’t know until I went there that I love nature and being in nature so much. There it is just buildings and artificial things.
What has been the most challenging part of university for you?
At university, when you first go there, you may think that you are confident and have confidence. I thought that I had confidence only to find out that I didn’t really. During my first lecture I was really shocked when my Mathematics lecturer finished four chapters within two hours. I was surprised to see how many learners were in my class; 500! And that wasn’t including the learners who are being lectured in Afrikaans. It was really shocking.
When I told one of the leaders in my residence that I am studying accounting and that I did not do it at school, he asked me a question; “Are you prepared to fail?” I said, “No! I cannot fail. I have never ever failed.” And he was right, it was the truth because I failed my first accounting test. I was so angry and upset after that test, I cried. I felt like I had no hope because my lecturer told us that the second test would be even more difficult. I began to tell myself that I would not allow a piece of paper to tell me that I am a failure.
Things are always more fast-paced in a city which is very different to rural areas where people are generally more relaxed. How has your concept of time changed since you have spent time in a city?
I think that I have realized the importance of managing my time. It is something people do not always get taught in rural areas; how to plan. I have also realized that the main cause of stress for people living in cities is time. Even five minutes is a lot. Planning and sticking to your plans is very important.
What has been helpful for you to improve your planning and time management? It is something we at Axium find very difficult to teach learners.
You will not be able to plan if your mind is full of things. It is very important to empty your mind by writing down everything that is weighing on your mind on a piece of paper. Once I have written it all down there are three things I do; first I find all the things that will take me a short time to finish, just a few minutes, and I do those things immediately. Secondly, I look for the things that are not very important and I see if I could get someone else to help me with these. I also put these aside to complete later because they aren’t so important. Lastly if there are things that are important and are going to take me a longer time to complete, then I write it down on my calendar. My calendar and my piece of paper then become my mind and my mind is empty of stress. I have to check my calendar and piece of every day to make sure that I stick to my planning.
Gcobani, any closing words?
I would like to say a few words. Firstly, the details matter in everything. In terms of your work and even your personal matters. Secondly, there is a phrase that I use; “If you don’t know and you don’t ask, it is your fault.” So if you don’t know something, you must go and ask someone.