UCT Summer School: learning for the love of it

The team from UCT’s Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, which organises the university’s Summer School, from left, are Bronwyn Geldenhuys, Fezile Kama, Arlene Bowers, Dr Medee Rall and Zuleiga Adams.

UCT’s Summer School, which saw attendance flag when all lectures went virtual during the pandemic, adopted a hybrid approach this year that lets participants attend in-person or log in from home.

Dr Medee Rall, who heads the programme, says it started 72 years ago. “The origin of Summer School is when soldiers returned from World War II, the university offered returning soldiers courses,” she says.

It’s an informal learning programme and participants do not receive a degree or certificate, and there are no exams. “It is learning for the sake of learning, it’s a true lifelong adult learning experience.”

For three weeks during January, the programme offers a variety of lectures on music, film, design, history, science, engineering, language, psychology, medicine, wellness and more.

“Many of the courses, are two-lecture, three-lecture or five-lecture courses and they are one hour per lecture.”

There is a Summer School extension programme in March and April, which this year will include courses on Johann Sebastian Bach, plants of the Western Cape, detective novels, poetry, politics and the Middle East.

Dr Rall says they are trying to attract younger participants to the programme, and this year they will give Grade 11s and matrics from underprivileged schools the chance to attend a Saturday Summer School. “These lessons show them what it’s like to be at university, it gives them a first-level lecture and gives them a curiosity for lifelong learning.”

And this year, by working with the Philippi Hub, which is at the Solution Space in Philippi and part of UCT’s Graduate School of Business, they were able to live-stream the Summer School programme to the Philippi community free of charge.

Before the pandemic, the programme had between 2200 and 2300 participants annually, but it now draws only 20% of those participants because of Covid, says Dr Rall.

All the lectures were live-streamed during 2021 but now participants have the option to attend in-person or watch a live-stream.

“What the pandemic allowed us to do is make the summer school virtual which opens up education everywhere,” says Dr Rall, adding that they are attracting participants from all over the world.

Rosemarie Saunders, from Kenilworth, has been attending the Summer School lectures for over 40 years, and she continued to do so, virtually, during the pandemic. “I have always been interested in learning more about the arts and history.”

Retired UCT professor Anwar Suleman Mall still gives lectures at the Summer School, which he has been doing for more than 12 years. He is a medical biochemist with a special interest in mucus.

“It has been a lovely journey exploring different scientific and science-related topics,” he says. His lectures on mucus in the gut, gastrointestinal tract and on the gut-brain axis have been very popular. He has also covered religion and science, the fantastic inner world of the cell, and what it means to be human, among other topics.

Visit www.summerschool.uct.ac.za or email ems@uct.ac.za for more information.

Former cabinet minister Trevor Manuel spoke about challenges facing South Africa, in a lecture at the Kramer building, at the end of January.