The sparkling jewel in the Cape Winelands ed­u­ca­tion crown is har­vest­ing the fruits of its A-level labour. Stem­schoolofnote

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Sommerset College - BY LINDSEY SCHUT­TERS

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

THE CAM­BRIDGE WAY How do you en­sure that you’ve thor­oughly pre­pared prospec­tive stu­dents at your univer­sity for suc­cess? You de­velop the ul­ti­mate en­trance exam which then also serves as a global mar­ket­ing strat­egy and keeps your in­sti­tu­tion top of mind wi

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