The Star Early Edition
Star Schools gives pupils another chance
Hundreds have benefited from extra tuition
STAR Schools is widely renowned for the hundreds of lives it has changed through the various education programmes it offers.
What is not so well known, however, is that the company owes its name to a relationship forged with The Star newspaper during the early 1980s.
It was at this time that two men, one an English language specialist and the other a scientist, realised the financial potential of presenting extra lessons in English and science to groups of pupils, rather than individuals.
The language specialist was Jacques Shellshop, while the scientist was none other than William Smith, who went on to become the country’s most well-known television science and mathematics teacher.
The classes proved to be so successful that Shellshop and Smith were soon joined by a maths teacher and, later, biology, history and geography teachers.
It wasn’t long before the classes had evolved into a Saturday morning programme, aimed at preparing matric pupils for their final exams.
In the early 1970s, the classes moved to the Witwatersrand University campus and over the years the programme came to be known as the Saturday School.
This was soon followed by another programme, the Winter School.
Most of the founding members eventually moved on to other occupations, but Smith decided to turn the school into a formal business.
“The Star Schools” was registered as a private company, the name being generated from a relationship with The Star newspaper, which owned a 50% equity in the new organisation.
Bringing hope to matrics
During the political unrest of 1986, Aggrey Klaaste, then editor of The Sowetan, conceived the idea of a rewrite school to assist pupils who had lost out because of the examination boycott of that year.
He approached Smith, who agreed to take it on.
Other rewrite programmes in existence at the time were permitted to register pupils for the supplementary exams, usually written in March. Smith advocated, however, that three months was not enough time to teach pupils who had lost out on an entire year of study.
Following intervention by Klaaste, the then ministers of finance and education sanctioned pupils who registered for the Star Schools Matric Rewrite Programme to write their final exams at the end of the year, effectively giving them the entire academic year for tuition.
Additionally, it was also decided that on passing the final exam, the pupils’ statement of symbols and matric certificate would be amended to reflect the new results.
Around 950 pupils registered to receive weekly tuition in the subjects for which they registered. Classes were held at the Witwatersrand University campus, and the first Star Schools Matric Rewrite exams took place at the end of 1987. The pupils achieved an average pass rate of about 72%.
During the early 1990s The Star sold its shares in the company and agreed that the name could be changed to Star Schools. Smith left the company in 1994 and Roger Briggs became CEO. He currently serves as chairman of the company’s board of directors.
Today Star Schools’ Matric Rewrite Programme is acknowledged as one of the biggest and most successful in the country, yielding an average annual pass rate of around 78%. Many pupils who qualified for tertiary education after successfully completing the Matric Rewrite Programme have gone on to become engineers, lawyers, accountants and doctors. Others are company secretaries and CEOs.
Star Schools’ managing director, Haroon Motalib, is also among the alumni. “I attended the Saturday School in 1989 and 1990 and found William Smith’s ‘island system’ to be particularly beneficial in understanding physical science,” he recalls.
“We would love to hear from anyone who has successfully completed one of our programmes over the years,” he adds.
“Tell us how Star Schools helped to shape your career. Your stories play an integral role in motivating other learners to change their future.”
Making a difference
“Grade 10, 11 and 12 learners are exposed to high-quality educational materials and instruction in English, mathematics and physical science, thus enabling them to pass their examinations at levels with which they can further their education at a tertiary institution,” Motalib explains.
“The programme is geared to directing learners on an intended career path such as engineering, IT or financial services. Career guidance instruction is also provided.
“Because learners are matched to the skills profile of the sponsor organisation, the programme essentially develops future employees who meet the organisation’s specific business requirements,” he continues.
“Additionally, talent pipelines are created in that learners can feed into the sponsor organisation’s bursary scheme, thus addressing community needs for individual development.
“This holistic strategy aims to produce well-rounded individuals who are prepared for the emotional and intellectual adjustment needed to study and succeed at a tertiary institution.”
That the programme is actively contributing towards changing education levels cannot be disputed, Motalib declares.
“One of our programmes, based in the Nkomazi Local Municipality, has been running for 11 years. Since its inception, more than 500 sponsored learners have matriculated, achieving a collective pass rate of 99%.
“Additionally, no fewer than 98% have gained access into tertiary institutions. Of these, 470 qualified for university entry, while an additional 20 learners qualified for diploma courses.”
Star Schools’ calculation on the return on the sponsor company’s R8.6 million investment over the 11-year period reveals that once qualified, 46% of the alumni are contributing approximately R76m per year to the economy.
“Assuming that each person is gainfully employed for 30 years, we can comfortably deduce that the investment in the youth of Nkomazi will return just over R2.2 billion to the local and South African economy,” says Motalib. “Furthermore, if the assumption is made that 15% of the alumni who could not be found are working in similar professions, an additional R11m per annum can be added to the above figure.
“This project is but one example of how our Incubator Programme has positively impacted Grade 12 and tertiary attainments in the municipality, and produced some of the top learners in the province.”
Star Schools currently runs Incubator Programmes at no fewer than 24 centres across the country, including Viljoenskroon (Free State), Winterveldt (Gauteng), Malelane (Mpumalanga) and Bathlaros (Northern Cape).
Enhancing maths skills
Closely aligned to Star Schools’ Incubator Programme is its Grade 9 Maths Programme, which seeks to enhance learner confidence in mathematics.
“Companies sponsor extra tuition to Grade 9 learners, hoping to improve their foundation skills in maths, thus convincing them to choose the subject in the Further Education and Training (FET) phase (Grade 10-12) of their schooling,” Motalib explains.
“The long-term objective is to encourage more learners to enter study fields such as engineering, where mathematics is a requirement for study at institutions of higher learning.”
Held over nine weeks, the programme consists of 25 hours of intensive tuition. Handouts explaining the content are provided to all learners, and educators supplement these with additional notes, where necessary. Additionally, numerous class tasks enable educators to implement immediate corrective action, as needed.
According to Motalib, a recent graduate of the programme saw her maths marks improve by a staggering 49%, while 30 other pupils showed an achievement increase above 30% between the June and December exams.
It’s never too late to get your matric
Star Schools’ newest offering is the Amended Senior Certificate (ASC) Programme, which enables adults who did not complete their high school education, or failed their matric examination, to obtain their school leaving certificate and thus further their education if they so choose.
“We introduced this programme specifically for those who do not qualify for the Matric Rewrite Programme for some reason, but wish to complete or improve their matric,” says Motalib.
He points out that although the ASC currently does not allow candidates to obtain university endorsement, they may apply for age exemption as an interim measure until the university admission requirements are approved by the Department of Higher Education and Training.
Candidates who register with Star Schools to write the ASC examination receive study material (work books, past examination papers and English set works), as well as e-mail tutorial assistance from Star Schools educators.
“Star Schools has come a long way since the Saturday classes of the 1960s, but throughout our existence, we have remained committed to our core purpose, which is to equip learners for life by helping them reach their true potential,” says Motalib.
“By empowering learners through the provision of world-class education we are helping them to take the first, yet arguably, most important step on their journey towards success,” he concludes.
The Programme has produced some of the top learners in the province ‘(Our aim is) to equip learners for life by helping them reach their full potential’