ONLINE /ERT at SU for PYDA Wine and Tourism students 2020
The partnership between the PYDA (The Pinotage Youth Development Academy (www.pyda.co.za), an NPO based in Stellenbosch) and the Department of Viticulture & Oenology (DVO) was set up to assist in upskilling young, previously disadvantaged South Africans for employment in the wine industry. The PYDA operates in Winelands communities where poverty is recognized as being multidimensional and complex, and employment and other income-generating opportunities are rare. The DVO have been working with the PYDA since 2009, both in an advisory capacity and doing an intensive, practical “Introduction to viticulture and winemaking course” since 2012. The PYDA has a very successful model based on 50% technical training (provided by the DVO) and 50% personal and professional skills development involving other facilitators. The programme is not itself accredited, but makes use of accredited providers like SU. Since 2013, there have been 270 graduates, and until the pandemic’s devastating effects on the wine industry, 92.5% of these graduates were employed.
Normally the DVO aspects of the course are very hands on, covering 8 weeks per annum, offered as four separate modules (viticulture, wine sensory, winemaking, trade & legislation) registered as a single short course. Before 2020, none of this content was online. Students had a hardcopy Manual/Handbook to work in, and carried out activities in the classroom, lab, cellar and vineyard to fulfil learning objectives.
The students started their technical training in viticulture with Dr Erna Blancquaert (DVO) and Mr Brenton Maarman (Elsenburg Agricultural college) in February, and luckily, were able to complete this aspect of the course before the Covid-19 pandemic hit the Western Cape.
Viticulture training before lockdown at Delvera Wine Estate
On the day the students arrived for their first class in Wine Sensory Evaluation in March 2020, the PYDA and SU independently decided to suspend face-to-face activities, and all students were sent home, and a week or two later, hard lockdown followed.
As PYDA students are not registered with SU, we could not use Sunlearn (the SU online learning platform) to continue the teaching. The solution for the DVO intervention was to move all the content onto the Sunonline short course platform. Thus, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual 100% face-to-face community engagement initiative was converted to 100% online by Dr Marianne McKay.
All PYDA students live in very low income households and as such have no access to technology, laptops, data and in some cases even electricity. The PYDA had to raise funds to provide each student with the relevant hardware and data to study effectively online. By the end of July, all students were kitted with a laptop, Telkom router and 20GB data per month. They pivoted to a “WhatsApp Academy” and facilitators were trained and prepared, as were students, to continue learning in this new way. Consistent communication with all students via the PYDA, and between the PYDA and SU ensured that students were all registered and able to access the online content. There were inevitable technical and administrative hiccups, and finding ways to assess practical skills, especially in terms of winetasting, was extremely tough. The students also experienced the online environment as challenging: they often work with constant interruption and no privacy, and learning about wine was made even more difficult by the total ban on alcohol. The DVO thus had to be very creative in thinking up solutions (for example, asking students to use items in their kitchens as aroma standards, and reflect on their emotional connections to particular smells) that could assist in enhancing our ‘traditional’ learning in wine evaluation. Learning had to be layered over weeks and months to the point that when the alcohol ban was finally lifted, we were able to ask students to actually taste wine in small, socially-distanced groups, and submit their tasting sheets online.
Despite all of these challenges, 42 of the initial class of 50 students graduated – an amazing achievement given the immense challenges faced and overcome in 2020. They received their SU certificates as evidence for their hard work on the course.
Graduation in December 2020 at Delvera wine estate
Phiwe Vokwana (24) lives in Kayamandi with his family of 4 and is now working as a Tasting Room Assistant, at La Motte winery, says that the most difficult part was the online learning but he got used to it and enjoyed the journey so much in the end. Marche Hendricks (22) lives in Paarl and is now working as a Harvest Intern at Lievland Estate, said that one of her favourite aspects was the viticulture part. She also liked how the course has taught her to think critically. Busiswa Ntontela (25) lives in Kraaifontein and is as yet unemployed. She says that the hardest part of the year was the online learning before she received her laptop, but that: “I am work ready, I have fallen in love with the wine industry and want to become a sommelier.”
Nikki Munro, Director of the PYDA, said of 2020: “The experiences have again highlighted how more needs to be done to close the systemic equality gap in our country. We simply cannot go on as before. Students have demonstrated unbelievable commitment and resilience despite this. The primary external challenges pre COVID-19 were around meaningful employment opportunities as well as a worsening psycho-social context. In the age group we work in (18 to 25 year olds) unemployment at the end of 2019 was 60% – pre-Covid. At graduation we have the lowest level of employment ever and will be focusing on that with urgency for the first part of 2021. Alcohol has just received its 4th ban with devastating impacts on the sector already working on a disaster recovery process likely to span years. This has a direct impact on the viability of plans for the next Wine & Tourism Programme. The psycho social context is always extremely challenging, now exacerbated by job losses, death and the loss of a dreamed of future.”
The DVO is immensely proud to be working with this incredible organisation, and we will continue to support them in every way we can. PYDA relies on financial support to provide high-quality programming for their students. To help fund a young, talented South African on their journey into the wine and tourism industry, please contact the organisation (email@example.com).