The sparkling jewel in the Cape Winelands education crown is harvesting the fruits of its A-level labour. Stemschoolofnote
DARIO TRINCHERO is a rock star at high school. Which is odd, because kids who stand out by achieving perfect scores on international maths exams are usually on the less glamorous end of the cool divide. That we couldn’t walk across campus without being stopped for at least three hugs from girls speaks volumes for how academic achievement is valued at Somerset College.
But a rock star is only as good as his band. The teachers who helped Dario achieve his high accolades are equally impressive in their commitment to excellence. Trinchero is also a regular teenager who gets a bit shy in interviews and seeks the comfort of his group of friends. Being one of the best maths students in the world isn’t easy, but you’ll never say so when talking to him.
Yes, a South African scholar achieved 100 per cent in the Cambridge maths exam
in the first year the programme has been at the school. Four other kids in the class achieved near-perfect scores as well. Now let the fact sink in that SA regularly is rated at the bottom of the pile in maths and science among developed and developing countries. This is a special achievement indeed.
“WE STARTED at the beginning of 2015, so Dario was part of the first AS class,” explains Gareth Tucker, deputy head of Somerset College. Tucker runs the school’s Cambridge programme.
The school is a private entity that follows the IEB (independent examinations board) curriculum, but also offers the Cambridge International Examinations as an option for more advanced learners.
“We offer a staged route to the A-level, so the learners write an exam at the end of year one, which is the AS or A-level supplementary,” continues Tucker. “And then they write the rest of the exams at the end of year two – which some people call A2 – and that gives them the full A-level qualification. The exam that Dario wrote at the end of 2015 was the AS exam.”
The Best Maths Student in the World claim, that many South African media outlets led with, isn’t all sensation and exaggeration, either. “We have the certificate from Cambridge stating that,” says Tucker.
“Well, best maths student in the AS, which is international, but obviously not everybody does it,” Trinchero interjects.
Achieving a perfect score on what is considered the toughest high school maths exam in the world is a special achievement, made more special when I’m told that fewer than 10 students matched this achievement. And Trinchero is the only one in the southern hemisphere to do it last year.
But there’s more to the Cambridge story. “You get two Cambridge systems. Much like our national exam and IEB exams are based on the same curriculum, but differ in exam questioning style. IEB is regarded as being at a higher level,” says Tucker. The UK follows the national Cambridge system, but about 2 000 schools are now switching over to the international programme because of the difference in levels.
“Some international universities are now giving credits to students coming from the international Cambridge programme, so if Dario wants to go to Harvard with his international A-levels in maths, he’ll start with second-year mathematics… depending on how he does this year, of course,” explains Tucker.
MUCH LIKE COMPATRIOTS Siya Xusa and Elon Musk, Trinchero is bound for overseas should he repeat his 2015 exploits and get funded. “I’m applying to a heck of a lot of universities, mostly in America, but also two local ones because I do believe that UCT has a very high standard of physics – as far as I’m aware it’s the top one in Africa,” he says.
You can’t blame him for first seeking tertiary tutelage outside of our borders. Although the yearning to spread his bright brain all round the globe is something that’s encouraged at the school. “We’ve allowed him to fly,” says Meg Fargher, executive head of Somerset College, of how the school empowers gifted kids. “We try to take the roof off so that they can reach their full potential. All 120 matrics last year applied and were accepted at British universities, and that was straight in with an IEB matric.”
Fargher does, however, state that it isn’t the school’s intention to send skills out of the country and I’m inclined to agree with her.
Somerset College is a private school that accepts kids from Grade R through matric. And school fees aren’t cheap. This culture of excellence is hidden behind a paywall of privilege that immediately puts pupils at a massive advantage to their government school counterparts. The school doesn’t have things all its own way, though. It is currently seeking funding to build a centre for the arts that will also have a maker space.
One advantage of not having shareholders to please is that the