CityPress - - Front Page - SIPHO MA­SONDO sipho.ma­sondo@city­press.co.za

Astreet­wise prin­ci­pal and a merry band of com­mit­ted teach­ers are all that’s needed to cat­a­pult a fail­ing ru­ral school with no fa­cil­i­ties into one with a 100% ma­tric pass rate.

So says Ntombi­zodwa Ntan­dane, prin­ci­pal of Sikhwahlane Sec­ondary School in Mz­inti vil­lage, Mpumalanga, whose matrics all passed, even though they didn’t have ac­cess to a li­brary or lab­o­ra­tory.

Of the school’s 114 matrics, 62 achieved univer­sity en­trance passes, 37 got diplo­mas and the re­main­ing five grad­u­ated with cer­tifi­cates.

Ntan­dane says hard work is the only se­cret to suc­cess.

“Many peo­ple mar­vel when schools in ru­ral ar­eas pro­duce top-qual­ity re­sults, but we don’t. It’s what we do here. For us, it’s the other way around – we are sur­prised if we don’t do well.”

While teach­ers and pupils in other schools look for­ward to week­ends and hol­i­days, at Sikhwahlani there is no such thing.

“We have Satur­day, Sun­day and win­ter classes – and th­ese ex­tra lessons are strictly mon­i­tored. We plan for the year and mon­i­tor progress. We aren’t sur­prised when they per­form well; this is what is ex­pected of them,” Ntan­dane says.

By March, staff have iden­ti­fied all weak and un­der­per­form­ing stu­dents and ev­ery ma­tric teacher adopts a few, tend­ing to their emo­tional, so­cial and aca­demic needs.

“We give them spe­cial at­ten­tion and in­volve their par­ents.”

Staff also pro­file all pupils to de­ter­mine their strengths and weak­nesses.

Hard work is in­grained in the cul­ture of the school, Ntan­dane says, adding the matrics lit­er­ally camp there a month be­fore their fi­nals.

“They bath here and we feed them. We can’t risk them be­ing at home as we wouldn’t know if they were study­ing. Teach­ers visit them at night for more re­vi­sion.”

Be­fore they are hired, teach­ers un­dergo a rig­or­ous screen­ing process and their back­grounds, habits and at­ti­tudes are checked.

“We ori­en­tate them to the cul­ture and tell them they will be ex­pected to be in school on week­ends and at ev­ery school and par­ents’ meet­ing. I re­quire to­tal com­mit­ment and my heads of depart­ment sub­mit quar­terly re­ports.

“I tell them they are wel­come to be mem­bers of any union, but union ac­tiv­ity will not be al­lowed to dis­turb the school.”

Ntan­dane’s boot camp ap­proach clearly works for her, but other meth­ods work equally well. Muzi­wenhlanhla Mkhwanazi, prin­ci­pal of Thong­wana Se­nior Sec­ondary in KwaMh­labuyalin­gana in north­ern KwaZu­luNatal, gives his teach­ers “to­tal free­dom”. This ap­proach has been suc­cess­ful – all but one of his ru­ral school’s ma­tric pupils passed their exams. “I give my teach­ers to­tal free­dom. They can take a few days’ leave to see a girl­friend or at­tend union meet­ings or do what­ever they want to do. But they know I’m a stern dis­ci­plinar­ian and I de­mand com­mit­ment in re­turn for the free­doms I al­low them.” Mkhwanazi says: “We have man­aged to get dis­tinc­tions out of dun­der­heads and hope­less pupils who failed dis­mally in other schools. The school’s motto is sim­ple: ‘We change peo­ple’.”

Of their 91 matrics, 31 ob­tained univer­sity en­trance passes, 55 qual­i­fied for diplo­mas and five for cer­tifi­cates. There were a to­tal of 59 dis­tinc­tions.

Dur­ing the first week of school each year, Mkhwanazi calls a “very se­ri­ous meet­ing” with all matrics and teach­ers. “We dis­cuss what is ex­pected of ev­ery­one. The fol­low­ing week, I fork out my own money and throw a party for the teach­ers. We eat and drink to­gether and I tell them we will win to­gether be­cause we are a win­ning team.”

Be­fore the June trial exams and ma­tric fi­nals, Mkhwanazi throws a party for all matrics and ex­horts them to work hard.

“We party and laugh to­gether and ad­dress each other us­ing our nick­names. But I tell them ex­actly what I want from them. I spend so much time with them – week­ends, hol­i­days, even week­day nights – teach­ing them. But they also know I don’t com­pro­mise on dis­ci­pline.” For him, it’s crit­i­cal to lead by ex­am­ple. “You can call me a shep­herd ... a mis­step on my part will screw up ev­ery­thing and I, as the leader, will be ac­count­able.”

Pheello Ku­malo, prin­ci­pal of the Sekgut­long Se­nior Sec­ondary School in QwaQwa, Free State, says a school’s re­sults are only as good as its prin­ci­pal and teach­ers.

“We wouldn’t have got­ten a 100% pass rate if we didn’t have good lead­er­ship. The school man­aged 61 bach­e­lors’ passes, 48 diplo­mas and five cer­tifi­cates.” The school scored 36 dis­tinc­tions and Moloi Maleke was de­clared the prov­ince’s top pupil in the quin­tile.

The school’s suc­cess came in the wake of a host of re­vi­sion pro­grammes, in­clud­ing Satur­day classes, win­ter and sum­mer schools and var­i­ous group ex­er­cises.

While teach­ers are unionised, he says they all want the best for the no-fee school.

“It would be nice to have li­braries, in­ter­net ac­cess and lab­o­ra­to­ries, but life doesn’t stop be­cause we don’t have them.”

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