Coaching helps plug learning gap

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A research project by the Department of Accountancy at the University of
Johannesburg and the Centre for Coaching at the UCT Graduate School of Business
has found that integral coaching is an effective intervention to promote academic
success for students studying towards the CA(SA) designation

Even though much effort has been put in by the South African Institute of
Chartered Accountants (SAICA) and South African universities, the 2011 SAICA
annual report states that only 24% of the membership resident in South Africa is
black, as well as only 19% of the total membership.

The situation has many institutions scratching their heads. Despite the fact that
there are numerous interventions to boost the numbers of black CAs - SAICA, for
example, established the Thuthuka development programme in 2002 to assist African
and Coloured academically strong learners, who are from families that cannot support
them financially - the numbers remain stubbornly low. Clearly something else is at
play and the clue may lie in the personal circumstances of those aspiring to become
CAs.

Nosipho*, for example, is a young black woman from the Vaal triangle studying
towards a bright future as one of the emerging class of black CAs at the University
of Johannesburg (UJ). But her path to success has not been a smooth one. Despite
having her studies funded through a Thuthuka bursary, her dream of success was
nearly derailed by the pressures of university life and her own challenging personal
circumstances.

Last year, battling academic, financial and personal pressures, the 23-year-old
approached her final year of studies. She had to complete all her B Com (Accounting)
final year subjects with an overall average of 55%, as well as a sub-minimum of 55%
for Accounting to be accepted into her Honours and CTA year, a pre-requisite for her
CA Board exams. The nearer she got to her final exams the more anxious and
stressed she became.

And she wasn?t alone. It is well known that the academic training towards
becoming
a CA(SA) is very strenuous and stressful. Add to this the fact that more than 50%
of the students registered at UJ are first generation university students within their
family and community, and that a significant portion of their learners have a low
Living Standards Medium (as determined in the first year questionnaire which forms
part of the UJ First Year Experience project). These additional factors present unique
personal barriers in life, which may impact on students? academic performance.

According to Erica Du Toit, UJ Faculty of Economic and Financial Sciences
Department of Accountancy?s vice-chairperson, students are under immense pressure
to perform well, but have limited support to cope with the pressure.

"Students are trained extremely well technically, but not much has been done to
date in order to help them cope with their own unique issues and problems on a
personal level, "says Du Toit. "Their personal circumstances could play a significant
role in these students? struggle for excellent academic performance.'

Plugging this gap has therefore become a priority for the Department of
Accountancy
at UJ. During the past few years, the department has made many changes to its
degrees? curriculum in response to the introduction of SAICA?s Competency
Framework requirements. (The Competency Framework outlines the competencies
expected from a CA (SA) at point of entry into the profession i.e. when one is eligible
to use the CA (SA) designation).

As part of this restructuring, a new teaching and
learning model has been developed and adopted along with other interventions on
pre-graduate level to enhance the achieving of, specifically, the pervasive skills
required by the Competency Framework. One of these interventions was the life
coaching research project.

The coaching project also set out to investigate the correlation of the effect of
life
coaching presented to students on their academic performance. Numerous studies
around the world have documented the correlation between low socioeconomic
status and low achievement and the UJ study wanted to test if a coaching
intervention could offset these effects to some degree.

"We believe that by teaching students the ability to self-correct and self-regulate
within each of their unique life contexts, a well-rounded student with leadership
abilities, ethics and a drive for life-long learning can emerge,' says Du Toit. "So we
wanted to test this belief.'

The department partnered with the Centre for Coaching at the University of Cape
Town?s Graduate School of Business, South Africa?s premier executive coaching
organisation with local and international accreditation, in order to offer the life
coaching programme.

Third year Thuthuka students were invited to participate in the
project on a voluntary basis and each student underwent a personalised coaching
programme which consisted of 10 individual sessions with their selected coach over a
period of three months. Thuthuka students all have strong academic potential, but
come from rural, underperforming schools and come from families with severe financial
needs.

The Centre for Coaching coaches used an integral coaching approach, which explores
all the constitutional elements of being human - spiritual, cognitive, emotional,
relational and somatic (of the body), in order to tease out a person?s natural
potential.

"There is no such thing as a mediocre human being. People need the right kind of
support, within the right environment, for them to find, identify and express their
unique potential,' says Janine Everson, academic director of the Centre for Coaching.
"Coaching enables that process.'

Out of 43 final year B Com students on the Thuthuka programme, 27 students -
including Nosipho- volunteered to take part in the research project.

The results of the initiative speak for themselves. When Nosipho started the
programme last year she was found to be struggling with emotions, crying during
sessions as well as outside of them when confronted with an uncomfortable
situation, even when speaking to lecturers - the crying was a relatively recent
occurrence. She admitted to losing track of conversations with people, having
troubles in her relationship due to her emotional over-reactions, and feeling bothered
by her financial dependence on her mother. Though a Christian, regularly going to
church and bible study, she felt no connection to a higher order. And, she could not
express feelings in terms of how they feel or how her body would react to them.

Having grown up in a single household run by her 60-year-old mother, with two
siblings, one a 34-year-old housewife and the other a 19-year-old mother, neither of
whom she has ever felt a strong connection with, Nosipho has all her hopes pinned
on becoming a Chartered Accountant.

After just seven sessions every two weeks, Nosipho started to transform. Her coach
focused on exercises to help her manage her emotions, commit to achieving her
academic average of 55%, make a start in achieving her dreams, express herself
honestly and appropriately, and to listen to her body. Nosipho went from a default
position of, "I don?t deserve to be on campus' and "I cannot do it' to being selected
for the Honours and CTA programme.

In fact, out of the 27 students that received coaching 78% of them adhered to the
stringent admission requirements of the CA honours programme, while only 62% of
the students who chose not to receive coaching succeeded in doing so. In addition,
the combined rate of Thuthuka students admitted into the honours class in 2012 was
72%, a 30% improvement on last year.

"We are now waiting for the finalisation of the quantitative research study for more
proof of the correlation between academic performance and a coaching
intervention,' says Du Toit. "Then, we?ll consider ways to assist students with these
programmes in future.'

"This research project illustrated that coaching can play a major role in improving the
success rates in the higher education system, especially with students who come
from disadvantaged and troubled backgrounds, and who have been exposed to sub-
par education,' says Craig O?Flaherty, director of the Centre for Coaching.

"We often underestimate how a person?s background, their social stratification, and
personal history affect their ability to achieve their goals. Support goes a long way in
changing someone?s life, in overcoming the circumstances that undermine their
chances of success.'

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