Student Overcomes Odds to Graduate Summa Cum Laude
Mr Ntokozo Vundla was ecstatic to graduate with his Bachelor of Social Sciences Honours degree from UKZN. He overcame financial difficulties, academic hurdles and stigma at home to graduate summa cum laude. ‘At home no one really knows about things like this. My grandmother is uneducated and old, my mother is no more and my uncles want me to work and provide for the family. But UKZN staff always motivated me to study further to better myself. I did not let them down and they are so proud of me.’
Vundla spent time in student leadership at the University but battled academic exclusion which ultimately led to him leaving the Institution in 2017. This did not deter him. Through motivation from UKZN staff and his former employer, he came back to study in 2019 but faced financial difficulties.
His grandmother’s small income wasn’t enough to pay his registration fees. UKZN staff banded together and raised enough money to cover his fees so that he could have a chance to study and uplift his family. ‘In September 2020, I completed my Bachelor’s degree after spending more than six years on it and joined the honours class with the help of Dr Janet Muthuki.’
His research, supervised by Dr Balungile Zondi, examines Pietermaritzburg campus students’ experiences and the challenges they faced transitioning from traditional face-to-face to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Students, especially those who come from undeveloped rural areas, faced far more challenges with online learning. This revealed the widening gap between the rich and poor, rural and urban.’ His findings indicate that poor Internet connectivity, and a lack of devices and a conducive study environment for students were some of the factors that hindered online learning for students from rural areas.
Vundla argues that, ‘students should have a voice and never be left behind in the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and University’s planning, as they are the major stakeholders in education and even in the fight against this pandemic.’ He recommends ‘returning students to their residences as the amicable solution that will stop all of the other challenges.’
Vundla thanked his family, friends, supervisor Dr Zondi and UKZN staff for being his support system during his studies. He is grateful to Ms Vuyi Thabethe, UKZN PMB Finance, Mrs Thandi Sibisi, Ms Thandeka Ngubane, Ms Londiwe Zondo (Office of the Premier), Professors Stephen Mutula, Albert Modi, and Khondlo Mtshali and Mrs Rogan Joseph.
His advice to other students is, ‘The more you work, the more rewards come your way.’
Vundla is currently registered for his Masters in Social Sciences in Anthropology.
Words: Melissa Mungroo