Education’s ‘shining stars’ acknowledged

MEC for Education Debbie Schäfer speaks at the awards ceremony.

Miche Gertse from Bernadino Heights High School in Scottsdene, Kraaifontien, and Christine Vivier from De Kuilen High in Kuils River were two of the province’s top matric achievers feted as “bright shining stars” during an awards ceremony at Leeuwenhof, Premier Helen Zille’s official residence, last week.

Education MEC Debbie Schäfer thanked matrics, teachers and parents alike for bumping up the Western Cape’s pass rate from 84.7 percent in 2015 to 86 percent for 2016.

“We pay tribute to the stars in our province who have done so well in the matric 2016 examinations, and who are lighting the way for other provinces, as well as in communities that experience many difficulties. These people are showing that nothing is impossible, even if you have difficulties to confront,” she said.

While the province had dropped in the national ranking from first to second place, pupils and the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) still had “much to be proud of”.

She said: “We have always maintained that indicators of quality go well beyond the overall pass rate. We focus on quality of passes, and retention of as many learners as possible in the school system, so that we can ensure the best possible opportunities for our young people in the Western Cape.”

The Western Cape, she said, was the only province with a Bachelor’s pass rate of 40 percent or more.

Ms Schäfer also acknowledged the top three pupils in the country: Conrad Strydom from Hermanus High School, Christine and Hannah Clayton from Rustenburg Girls’ High.

The Ministerial Award was given to Miche who obtained two distinctions and a university exemption. Miche was diagnosed with bone cancer when she was in Grade 5 and relapsed several times throughout her schooling career when the cancer spread to her lung and arm.

In her matric year, she had a blood clot in her right leg and severe pain, but she persevered to pass and exceed expectations.

Tawanda Mutasa, from Pioneer School in Worcester, also received an award for excellence despite barriers to learning. Tawanda is visually impaired and obtained the highest marks in six subjects.

The MEC acknowledged that there were still many disparities between schools in wealthy and poor communities.

She said she was very pleased that all eight districts had again achieved pass rates of more than 80 percent.

“In addition, every quintile increased their pass percentage yet again,”she said.

South Peninsula High School pupil Nikita Heneke, from Retreat, was invited to the prestigious awards ceremony after getting eight distinctions – including A’s in pure maths, physical sciences, life sciences and accounting.

A proud Nikita said anyone could achieve top marks if they worked hard.

“I got a bursary to attend South Peninsula, and I knew I had to work hard to get a good mark. I knew what I wanted to achieve in terms of my marks, and I had a goal – that was my motivation,” she said.

Nikita will be studying medicine at Stellenbosch University.

South Peninsula High School had a 98 percent pass rate and 82 percent Bachelor’s passes for 2016 – 18 pupils achieved A-passes, 34 achieved B-passes and 71 achieved C-passes.

Ms Zille said it was critical to assess the pass rate alongside the retention rate – the ratio of learners who stayed in the system and did not drop out. The Western Cape had the highest retention rate in the country – 64.13 percent.

“It is easy to improve pass rates by allowing learners to drop out of the system. It is much more difficult to encourage kids to stay in school, to come early, stay late, or take Saturday classes. Our pass rate and our retention rate is up – a critical combination for good, credible progress in quality education.

“There is no doubt that we are on the right path. Back in 2009, it was unthinkable to hear of five or six distinctions achieved in disadvantaged schools. It is happening now, not because the standards are dropping – believe me, we competency test all matric markers. It’s happening because quality is improving. To the learners – you are the pathbreakers, the bright shining stars that are the beacon of inspiration for everybody else,” said Ms Zille.

She stressed the importance of a whole-of-society approach to improving education. The premier also referred to the province’s ambitious strategic programmes for progress in quality education.

“The WCED is working hard to land our eLearning game changer, ramping up this programme to ensure that the digital divide is not something that affects children in our schools. We are running further game-changers focusing on quality after-school programming, and linking young people to critical skills training,” said Ms Zille.