SA hero: Rural school principal gets 99% matric pass rate – against all odds!

One of the great failures of the new South Africa has been the education of children from historically disadvantaged areas so that they can compete for places in higher education and at work with individuals who have had the benefit of private education. Pass rates are dismally low and drop out rates tragically high in the state system, though there are some rare exceptions. As Steuart Pennington explains for South Africa – The Good News, a true story of inspiration comes from the Amangwane High School where the principal, Bongi Oscar Nhlanhla Dube, who is affectionately known as BO, has implemented a tough regime of teaching and learning. The early mornings and long hours for teachers and pupils are paying off, with Matric results that are helping to secure a brighter future for the youngsters who try hard enough to earn a place at the rural secondary school near Ladysmith. BO deserves a national award. – Jackie Cameron

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

A true story of inspiration in rural KZN

Amangwane High School: A centre of Excellence

By Steuart Pennington*

“If one has tasted success, no-one wants to kiss the ground” says Principal Bongi Oscar Nhlanhla Dube, known as BO, of Amangwane High School 100km South West of Ladysmith as he explains the outstanding matric results achieved every year by his distant, rural school.

Background comment

I have been part of the PFP process for some 12 months now. Partners for Possibility is an NGO which works in 1000 schools through partnerships between Principals and Business Leaders (see below). There are eight such partnerships in the Midlands of KZN. Our primary objective is to improve our eight schools as functional places of learning.

During the year we embark on the occasional field trip.

We recently visited Amangwane High school comprising 1 227 Grade 8 – Grade 12 learners with 20 classrooms and 33 teachers, that’s 61 learners per classroom and 37 learners per teacher (The DoE desired ratio is 31:1). Being 6 teachers short places a considerable burden on existing staff.

The Amangwane way

OB explains, “Parents look first to the results of the school as the benchmark of a good education, our objective is to achieve a 100% pass rate with a significant number of Bachelor passes with at least 50% of our learners achieving a number of distinctions. To do this:

  • We offer 15 matric subjects;
  • We start teaching at 06:00;
  • In the afternoon we have extra lessons from 16:30 to 18:00;
  • We have Saturday classes from 06:00 to 12:00;
  • We have Sunday classes from 13:00 to 18:00;
  • We teach during the holidays by engaging with previous learners who are currently at a tertiary institution;
  • We offer sport February to May, then it’s heads down preparing for end of year exams.

“My job is to find quality teachers which I register at the circuit office as opposed to having teachers foisted on the school. I spend much of my time training the School Governing Body (SGB) and the School Management Team (SMT) so that we can constantly strive to improve our results. It is critical that we develop accountability at all levels in the school; SGB, SMT, Unions, myself, teachers and learners alike”

How’s that for a few opening remarks!

YIKES!

Midlands Pfp’ers listening and learning

Having sat in stunned silence for a few minutes the questions started flowing:

Questions

“How do you get your teachers to commit to such a workload?”

“How do you get the unions Sadtu and Natu to cooperate?”

“How do you work this through the Department of Education?”

“How do you manage cell phones for teachers and learners alike?”

“How do you control the number of entrants into Grade 8 every year?”

“Do you keep in touch with your Alumni?”

“How do you deal with school pregnancies?”

“How do you celebrate success?”

“Do you progress learners who have failed into the next grade?”

Answers

In a calm, gentle and assured manner BO gave his answers: “At the beginning of the year we workshop our strategy with all stakeholders, DoE and unions included, we agree our targets, we confirm the ‘rules’, and then we get on with it. Teachers who can’t keep up are gently persuaded to move on, learners who don’t apply themselves are encouraged to attend one of the other nine secondary schools in the area. When learners apply to Grade 8, they have to bring their exam results from the previous two quarters, they are selected on that basis. We run annual careers programmes for our Grade 12s, by inviting our many Alumni who have achieved outstanding university results. Cell phones during classroom time are forbidden for both teachers and learners alike. We never progress learners who have failed into the next grade. In respect of schoolgirl pregnancies, we have an agreement with the parents that they will stay at home and be permitted to return the year after they have given birth. I always try and stay on the front foot with the DoE with the constructive intention of limiting disruption to the classroom.”

Results

As they say the proof of the pudding is in the eating! Amangwane matric results for 2018 were

2018 Results Number of Grade 12 Learners examined Passes Bachelor Passes Distinctions
125 123 64 22

Reality

Amangwane is a marginalised school, there are problems with overcrowding, lack of facilities, transport, nutrition and distance, but with committed and inspirational leadership BO Dube has shown, even under difficult circumstances the school can produce 98.5% matric pass rate, with 51% receiving Bachelor passes, and 22 distinctions. As I write BO is initiating an Alumni programme so that previous high-achieving matriculants can return to the school and add value to those who have yet to write.

BO doesn’t want any of those involved with Amangwane to kiss the ground again!