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Petrol attendant becomes first graduate in the family

As the cradle of Africa's higher education system, Unisa has made education accessible to people from all walks of life for over 150 years. Access to education through Unisa continues to be a fundamental tool for development and increased prosperity for many. This is particularly true in the case of Masutane Othilia Sebetha, a 38-year-old wife,  mother of three, firstborn and a breadwinner who is the first to graduate in her family. Without a university like Unisa, many young, old and marginalised people would be unable to realise their educational aspirations.

Masutane Othilia Sebetha

Sebetha, from Thembisa, recently graduated from Unisa with a Bachelor of Education in Intermediate Phase Teaching. Several things are inspiring about her journey to academic success. Raised by a single mother who struggled to make ends meet, she relates that, in 2007, she added to the family's poverty by falling pregnant without a means to provide for the child. To make matters worse, she says: "Five months after the baby was born, her father stopped supporting the baby." Realising the overwhelming burden of caring for a newborn in adverse conditions that the family lived in, Sebetha began hunting for any working opportunities to support her newborn child and family. 

She got a job at a local restaurant, where she worked from 2008 to the beginning of 2012, and eventually landed a job as a Petrol Attendant at a local filling station, where she currently works. Five years later, Sebetha says she felt inspired to pursue higher education; at the same time, she did not have the resources or the luxury to do so full-time as she was the sole breadwinner and had to keep her job. Turning to Unisa, in 2017, she applied to enrol for a Bachelor of Education in Intermediate Phase Teaching for the 2018 academic year. However, she was accepted to enrol for a higher certificate qualification.

"Defying the odds is never easy, but with determination, you can overcome any challenge," says Sebetha.

The Unisa Higher Certificate in Education aims to provide access to candidates with potential who otherwise would not meet the minimum entry requirements for a Bachelor of Education. Yet another way Unisa makes higher education accessible to people who would otherwise be excluded from learning in typical university systems. Not one to play with opportunities, Sebetha passed the higher certificate and enrolled for her degree the following year. Thanks to Unisa, she says, the opportunity to study allowed her a chance to break generational barriers. "I wanted access to higher education to change my circumstances. Today, I am the first  to graduate in my maternal side of the family."

However, this feat was not without hurdles. Sebetha has had to hope against hope several times to attain this degree. With her full-time job on one side and her academic work on the other, she had to make time to fit in her practicals. However, since her studies would not directly benefit her current employment, she was not entitled to study leave, leaving her to make extraordinary sacrifices, including being absent from work. At some point, academic demands and fatigue almost cost her her job−an eventuality she could not afford.

From working night shifts, having no study leave, academic work, practicals, and being a mother of three, it was not long before Sebetha suffered fatigue. Although giving up her academic goals looked ideal, Sebetha says: "Giving up was not an option I was willing to take. I was determined to meet demands from all fronts." It is not an easy road, but it is worth it. Sebetha tells other students: "Defying the odds is never easy, but with determination, you can overcome any challenge."

*By Tshimangadzo Mphaphuli, Editor: Internal Communications, Department of Institutional Advancement

Publish date: 2024/05/23

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