Online PGDip Public Health students graduate

The University of Pretoria’s School of Health Systems & Public Health recently celebrated its first cohort of online graduates, with the graduation of the inaugural Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health (PGDip in Public Health) online class on April 29.

The Director of the Comprehensive Online Education Services (COES), Professor Linda van Ryneveld – who heads up the academic support and administration teams that help create UPOnline programmes – said this was an exciting time for both UP and COES. “We are delighted to have our first graduates two years after starting the programme.”

While this was a first for UP, for graduates Danai Kwenda and Tebogo Mampane it was also their first time using the online learning format.

As to be expected, they both said it took a little bit of time to get used to the new online format as they were only familiar with traditional contact study methods. For both though, the first module was a welcoming experience and they got used to the ease and convenience of online learning very quickly.

“It was difficult to understand the online language at first as I had no experience with it before,” Kwenda said of her experience. “But when I started the first module the lecturers were very helpful and we could ask for help at any stage and could take screenshots of what we had difficulty with.”

Professor Liz Wolvaardt, the programme coordinator of the PGDip in Public Health, said that her team had taken great pains to ensure that the programme is student-focused and of a quality that benefits the UP brand. Students are provided with a significant amount of support to ensure their success, particularly when it comes to studying online and navigating the module contents, she said.

“All the students must do the first compulsory module, which we have designed so that they will also learn a new functionality of the online platform every week,” Prof Wolvaardt explained. “I tell students that there are three things we are trying to achieve in our first module: to learn some facts, become familiar with the system and to have some fun.”

Comfortable and convenient

Commenting on the online format, Mampane said she found it very convenient and also liked that she could save on fuel costs and the time taken to travel to classes. She liked that she was able to study from her comfort zone at home.

For her, the highlights of the course were that she also learnt useful computer and software skills she did not previously have and that she was able to do the course in her own time.

As a mother and working full-time as a manager for nutrition in the Department of Health in Limpopo, Mampane said that it did take discipline. “You have to give yourself time for study and meet deadlines for assignments and tests.”

Kwenda echoed Mamapne’s advice to future students about time management and discipline. “I was not working at the time, but it is ideal for people who are still working. It takes discipline and focus, especially if you are still working full time.”

Relevant course content

Kwenda came to the course having completed a BSc Honours in Zimbabwe back in 2002. She had been working as a medical technologist until 2019. She chose the course as she was looking for a change but still wanted to work in public health. The wide range of public health fields covered in the postgraduate diploma was what attracted her to the course.

“I already had lots of lab experience, but wanted to know more about other fields in public health. The PGDip in Public Health suited me as it covered all the different fields and I found epidemiology and biostatistics to be the most interesting to me. I’m now doing a BSc honours in epidemiology and biostatistics with sponsorship from the NICD [National Institute For Communicable Diseases Of South Africa] and I plan to do my masters next year.”

“Previously when I worked as a medical technologist I would wait for the samples to come in, but I was interested in how to go out and prevent or reduce the disease in the first place,” she said.

Kwenda also described the module on the social determinants of health as “one very interesting module”.

Public health in the time of Covid

Mampane also found the module on social determinants of health to be particularly relevant, along with principles of disease prevention and control and the introduction to environmental health.

“During Covid-19 pandemic, it was so relevant to that situation as we were seeing what we’re being taught was happening practically with infections, the causes and how to deal with it.

“I also enjoyed the introduction to research protocol as now I had an opportunity to put my ideas down and research what other people did before me,” she said.

Choosing her most interesting module or the module most applicable to her work was impossible for her. “Let me say all the modules as I am working at the Department of Health.”

Mampane was however easily able to choose the modules that were most challenging for her – epidemiology and biostatistics 1 and 2. “Here it is statistical analysing of data and it needs a mathematical background… I had a sleepless night but I did my best as it needed more time than the others and I passed it with distinction, even though it was not easy.”

Career advancement

Looking ahead, Mampane plans to apply for a PhD after completing the Masters that she has already begun and for which she needed the Postgraduate Diploma in Public Health.

“This diploma opened my mind that now I want to do research, find out what is happening in the world and come up with recommendations for solutions,“ she said.

“I now enjoy reading research articles more than before. I also intend to join the academic institution to share my knowledge with students,” Mampane said.

“The fully online system brings with it many new options, such as the fact that students can enrol in the programme up to six times a year. This is the realisation of goals that were set when we started this journey – to become a leader in the space of credible online education and to increase the University’s national and international footprint,” Prof Reyneveld concluded.

If you are interested in the PGDip in Public Health, please read more about the programme on the UPOnline website.