The launch of the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Writing Lab on Thursday 19 May was used to highlight the challenges facing many of our health sciences students, especially those learning in a second language. The Writing Lab is a facility that provides specialist writing support for Health Sciences staff and students. Its launch formed part of the Health Sciences Language Festival, a month-long programme of activities aimed at highlighting the multilingual diversity in the Faculty and fostering a climate of inclusivity and respect.
Deputy Dean for Undergraduate Student Affairs, Associate Prof Gonda Perez, knows what second language students experience. She came from an English-speaking family, having barely passed Afrikaans as a compulsory language at school, because it was forbidden in her home as ‘the language of the oppressor’; soon, while in exile, she had to learn to speak Setswana in Botswana, and then when she moved to Algeria, had to learn French within six months in order to study at university, as well as Arabic to be able to communicate with her patients in the community.
“It is from this experience that I understand the difficulties that many students face when entering the complex environment of UCT, where they have to learn in English, a language that is as foreign to them as French was to me,” she added.
The establishment of the Writing Lab followed a 2012/2013 review of undergraduate students’ academic literacy needs in the Faculty of Health Sciences. It highlighted that students were expected to have complex and varied literacy skills, but they were not being supported to acquire these.
The Writing Lab has been running for a little over a year and in that time has presented 62 workshops to over 2000 students and 150 staff members and over 600 individual consultations.
In photo: Dr Natashia Muna, the Writing Lab coordinator
“Writing is a fundamental means of communication within the sciences,” says Dr Natashia Muna, the Writing Lab coordinator.
According to Dr Muna, whether you are an undergraduate writing an essay, a postgraduate working on your thesis or a staff member preparing a publication, your success critically hinges on your ability to write well within the discipline.
“As a unit, we are committed to providing the specialist individual and customised support necessary to help all staff and students develop into excellent writers and achieve academic success.”
As a CHED Teaching Development Grant initiative, the Writing Lab exists as a unit within the Academic Development Programme’s Language Development Group, but functionally sits within the newly-formed Department of Health Science Education. This dualistic existence is a wonderful example of the strength to be drawn from cross-faculty engagement towards promotion and support of effective teaching and learning, with the shared goal of student success and transformation.