Top Achievers – The Mail & Guardian

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Class of 2020 learners reflect on completing high school during the global pandemic

Learners were wrapping up the first term of the 2020 academic year when Covid-19 started sweeping the country and lockdown was introduced. What was normally a 10-day school holiday quickly became a three-week holiday filled with uncertainty. 

A quick look at the 2017, 2018 and 2019 school calendars shows that on average, an academic year has around 200 school days in it. But 2020, with all the lockdown regulations and amendments to the calendar, had just 156 school days, resulting in schools losing about two months of school days. For learners in matric, this was extra challenging, due to the fact a typical year in matric has three exam periods that run for 60 days on average. So a 200-day academic year is typically a 160-day academic year if you are a matric learner. 

In addition to all of this, the global pandemic caused a lot of uncertainty, with many people doubting that the 2020 academic year would get completed at all. “I was not sure if we were going to finish the year and matriculate or if we were going to be told to come back for one more year of high school. At some point, I was panicking because I had waited so long for this moment and it felt like it was going to be delayed,” says Lerato Mogorosi, a class of 2020 matriculant. Another Grade 12 learner, Zamani Mvuleka, says he’s happy that he managed to complete the academic year despite all the challenges the year came with. Both learners are looking forward to pursuing their tertiary qualifications after performing well in their matric. 

So many things changed, and these had an impact on the overall learning experience of almost all learners. Lerato says that she already knew that it was going to be a challenging year. “I had been warned before about how overwhelming matric can be, but lockdown took it to another level. Everything changed, and it all happened quickly. We had to adapt to new ways of learning and most teachers weren’t familiar with the new platforms. It was just frustrating,” she adds. 

According to Mvuleka, his biggest challenge in the beginning was adapting. “I am a person who generally struggles to adapt, so being used to contact learning, I really struggled to adapt to online learning.”

Mvuleka’s experience was not unique. Many learners, students as well as teachers and lecturers struggled to transition from the in-person learning environment to virtual — even in cases where access to the internet and a laptop or computer, computer literacy and a conducive home environment were not factors. 

In addition to having to adapt to new learning methods and new teaching platforms, many learners found themselves struggling with additional factors such as having to work from home and dealing with poor connectivity. In March, South Africans were experiencing slow internet connections when both the West African Cable System (Wacs) and the South Atlantic Telecommunication (SAT-3) undersea cables broke. Mogorosi says during that time, she missed a few classes because she was struggling to connect to her virtual classes. “After a while, more work started becoming available via Google Classroom and being shared through WhatsApp, so the situation got better,” she explains. 

Mvuleka could still attend online classes. “But with no one there to really hold me accountable, I started slacking. Everyone at home was busy, so it was easy for me to just miss classes.”

Both learners credit a large portion of their good academic performance to the support they received during the year. Mogorosi had a life coach who did a lot of work to prepare her for the pressure that was inevitably going to come as the situation kept evolving and expectations kept rising. She also joined an online academic support group started by one of her former teachers. “I was so relieved to realise that I’m not the only one struggling with the challenges of lockdown and trying to learn during a global pandemic. The group really helped because we spent a lot of time just having conversations with each other, finding out how everyone is doing and suggesting ways in which we could all cope with what was happening. In addition to that, we received help with some of the school work we were struggling with,” she adds. Her parents also got her a private tutor for maths and science, which helped her a lot with her exam preparations. 

But this extra support is something most learners across South Africa simply could not afford. 

“I didn’t have a life coach, but I reached out to a private tutor who also helped me with maths and science and went out of his way to check on the progress I was making with other subjects. He also helped me prepare for all of my exams,” says Mvuleka. Both learners agree that they had to reach out for help because “it felt like everyone was busy trying to survive the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

One of the challenges that come with being around people who are all busy, Mvuleka explains, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to find motivation. The people who used to motivate him were in need of motivation themselves; the places he used to go to for inspiration were not accessible anymore.

Don’t neglect your hobbies

“One of the things my tutor told me to do was to spend time doing the things I liked, to not neglect my hobbies because I’m busy. I enjoy playing soccer, but I had convinced myself that I did not have enough time to play, and besides the fact that we were in lockdown, I had to do my school work. I told myself it’s a reward for all the work I did that day, and that really helped me.” Zamani played soccer alone in the backyard most of the time, but spending time practising his soccer skills cheered him up and allowed him to focus on school work. 

Lerato Mogorosi also made time in her daily schedule to go on walks, take pictures and play a bit of backyard hockey. “Spending time doing the things I enjoyed really kept me sane when the frustrations started piling up. It was an outlet I used to release my frustrations.”

Zamani Mvuleka’s advice to the class of 2021 is simple: “Do not fall into the trap of complacency. Set up a schedule for all your work and stick to it. If you have to tell your parents to force you to do your homework, tell them. Take all your assignments seriously because even though your school-based assessments or year mark only contributes 25% of your final mark, you don’t want to look at your results at the end of the year and know that the 1% or 2% that you’re short of was probably lost when you took your assignments for granted.”

Mogorosi says: “Set your goals, say your prayers, and do what you have to do to achieve them. We came out alright in the end, happy with our performance, but 2020 was definitely a scary rollercoaster.” — Thabo Makgato

Mining engineer Leslie Moloto

‘Education found me; I didn’t look for it’

When Leslie Moloto decided that his prospects as a mining engineer were not aligned with his dreams and passion, he took a leap of faith. At the time, many thought he was making the worst decision of his life and career, but years later, he says it has been worth it and given the chance he would do it all over again. His journey is one of tenacity, faith and passion. Moloto sat down to tell the Mail & Guardian about quitting his job as a mining engineer to become a teacher and realise his hopes and dreams — including finding creative ways to pay for his master’s degree at an international university, while giving back to learners who remind him of his own story.

What made you leave mining engineering to pursue education?

I was getting more and more passionate about education, and at the same time, the working environment in the mines at the time was really frustrating and draining me. I was working 14- to 15-hour shifts and not feeling fulfilled, and I would facilitate a four-hour maths workshop for high school learners and get so much more fulfillment. 

One day, I decided to resign from the mines because I really did not like the place where I was working and didn’t find value in the work I was doing. A few months later, I decided to pursue a career in education because it hit me that that’s the area where I believed I could add the most value. I left one for its own reasons, and walked into the other, also for its own reason. It wasn’t simply trading teaching for the mining engineering situation.

Why did you even study mining engineering to begin with?

I actually wanted to study medicine. From as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a doctor, because that’s what the smart kids do where I’m from. When I completed matric, I was accepted to study medicine, and had been awarded a bursary, but my family didn’t have the money required for registration. The bursary was awarded but was only going to make payments from April. I was feeling hurt and unmotivated, so I decided I’m going to stay at home and do nothing.Then one of my teachers showed me an advert for engineering bursaries; I read up a bit on the discipline and picked mining engineering. And that’s how I ended up studying mining engineering. 

When was the moment you realised that teaching was your passion? And how did you make the decision to leave a financially lucrative career to pursue one with less financial rewards and more work?

I’d like to think that I didn’t choose teaching, but teaching chose me. I can’t exactly remember a moment where I thought to myself: “This is it.” During the middle of my final year in university,  I stumbled across a TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson in which he was talking about education and creativity, and it sparked my interest in education. It felt like someone had just described exactly what I’d been feeling. But I was still pursuing a career in mining, plotting developmental paths and all of that stuff. As the year progressed, I started tutoring high school learners; up to that point I had done a lot of tutoring in university. 

It was through the many hours of tutoring and interacting with a lot of different people that I got really passionate about bringing about change in the education sector. 

At the same time mining engineering was taking a physical toll on me and the work environment just didn’t make me happy. As my relationship with one grew stronger, my relationship with the other grew weaker, until one day I found myself on the other side and stayed.

You are currently pursuing your master’s degree in education: tell us more about that. 

I’m studying for a Master’s of Education degree through Unicaf University and I should be completing it in June 2022. I have completed three modules, all with distinctions, and have two more to do and a dissertation to complete. I have been awarded a 75% scholarship by Unicaf for my studies and need to raise funds for the remaining 25%. The pandemic has made it extra difficult to do so and I have been forced to find innovative ways to raise the money. 

Why crowdfunding? Why did you decide to adopt an underprivileged school?

A friend of mine suggested crowdfunding. I’d heard of GoFundMe before, but I’ve always struggled with asking without offering a return. I didn’t grow up in an environment where you were taught or told that you can simply ask for things — you had to deserve them or earn them. After a while, I reached out to close friends and asked them for ideas about things that I can do as part of my fundraising, and they suggested I provide a service in line with the skills I have. That’s where the idea of adopting a school for a maths workshop funded through my crowdfunding campaign came from, with proceeds going towards paying the remainder of my fees.I decided to try crowdfunding and to incentivise people to donate to me by also giving back at the same. I am currently looking to adopt a disadvantaged school around Pretoria, where I will give that school an hour of free tutoring for every R200 donated to my crowdfunding campaign. 

I need to raise a total of R46 600, that’s a potential of 233 hours for a school that really needs the extra help but cannot afford it. This is my passion and I want people to know I am committed to it beyond just obtaining my master’s degree. 

So, I am still looking for a school to adopt and give this time to, and I am hoping people find it in their hearts to donate a little, as they can to help me and the learners of that school. 

Where do you want to see yourself after completing your MA?  

The big dream is to build a school, and in the meantime I’m doing the groundwork. Teaching, tutoring, getting a master’s degree, conducting research and getting really familiar with the current structures and policies that keep them in place. After my master’s I’d like to spend some time working with institutions that are spearheading the new wave of education, and some time working with policymakers to contribute to the good work being done, but also to learn and get better a sense of what is happening within the sector.

Do you know a school around Pretoria that could benefit from 233 hours of maths tutoring? Help underprivileged learners excel in maths and support Moloto’s crowdfunding campaign here. — Pontsho Pilane

The financial backlogs of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and the recent budget cuts for universities have affected the entire registration process

State of readiness: Are universities prepared for Covid-19 circumstances? 

Health and wellness are at the heart of every student’s ability to progress through their course of studies and complete their tertiary education. This is according to Ramneek Ahluwalia, the CEO of Higher Health, a health, wellness and development implementing agency of the Department of Higher Education and Training.

The agency has established Covid-19 task teams across all institutions of higher learning and has, to date, built the capacity of over 30 000 frontline individuals — both staff and student volunteers — who are assisting with running screening stations, educational programmes and other support services around campuses and residences. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has rendered running most types of events and businesses practically impossible or unsafe without stringent protocols. Tertiary education institutions are no exception to this disruption and have had to evolve — at a time when their established status quo is being called into question by infuriated students. 

To this end, universities are implementing different versions of “blended learning” with varying results. According to Buhle Zuma, Wits Senior Communications Officer, the university “aims to deliver good quality blended learning, which will include contact teaching and interaction coupled with online and multimedia components”. 

He explains: “We have invested in a new learning management system (LMS) called Canvas, a world-class online platform to support engaged teaching and effective student learning.” 

The Wits LMS has been aptly titled Ulwazi, and, according to the university, its powerful features will “enable us to carefully structure student learning opportunities and monitor student learning continuously”. The online learning system is envisaged as a more capable and responsive way of teaching than when “conducted purely face-to-face”.

Meanwhile, the University of Cape Town (UCT) has its own coping strategy. 

“The university will pursue a physically distanced, low-density campus approach to teaching,” Elijah Moholola, UCT Spokesperson, says. 

“The Senate has decided that all undergraduate courses will be offered via a combination of online lectures and face-to-face activities in small groups.”

Moholola emphasises that “different courses have different attendance requirements and approaches to learning”. He says: “Faculties such as engineering and the built environment and health sciences require physical attendance on campus, while humanities and sciences specify courses requiring attendance in person. Commerce does not require students to attend on campus, but they must sit for invigilated examinations in person. The law faculty will conduct all its teaching online.”

Budget cuts bite hard

This is, of course, if all things go according to plan. Wits is already experiencing student protests over lack of access to funds and the inequalities of remote learning.  

“As things stand, many universities are not ready to start the academic year,” Thabo Shingange, National Spokesperson of the South African Union of Students, says.  

Shingange attributes this unpreparedness to “financial backlogs of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and the recent budget cuts, which have affected the entire registration process”.

The Department of Higher Education had to extend university registration for two more weeks to allow NFSAS to sort out outstanding confirmation of funding for all first-year students. 

NSFAS has not been spared the woes of an economy struggling under a global pandemic. Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has confirmed that NSFAS will be funding returning students who meet the criteria, but the fate of many first-year students still hangs in the balance.

Shingange says that further issues beyond funding are the “infrastructural challenges” in the race “to have a combination of physical and online registration”. It is a tricky one for a number of institutions, he adds. 

According to Mateboho Green, Corporate Communications Manager at Universities South Africa (Usaf), it is unlikely that all students will have devices and access to data. “There will be orientation programmes that will allow institutions to strengthen the capacity of students to use learning management platforms and their devices. Online access to libraries will be available to students.”

For Wits, a range of academic and psychosocial academic services are available to students through the office of the dean of student affairs. This includes the First Year Experience Programme Experience, which is “designed to provide a bridging gap between high school and university, by providing a support structure aimed at empowering and equipping first-year university students”, Zuma explains.

UCT is implementing a laptop scheme for all incoming students who need one. This is because orientation, registration and some teaching activities will be online, and all students must have a laptop or a computer. “Students have the option of choosing whether they wish to receive a device through the UCT laptop scheme, which they can collect on campus at the First-Year Campus Reception service — an initiative which was set up from 28 February to 2 March to receive students on campus,” Moholola says.

Green adds that many lessons were learned in the last year and much of the infrastructure to support remote or blended learning was put in place to improve the use of technology in teaching and learning.

But Shingange argues universities could be more inclusive and should instead follow the route of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and “take a bold progressive move to financially clear all students to be able to register for 2021”.

“If UWC, as a historically disadvantaged institution, can do that, what is stopping Wits [and similar universities]?” 

For Shingage, the lessons from 2020 are different. “We cannot afford to have first- and second-years in a botched programme; that will cripple our higher education institutions. The quality of education is already going down as a result of the pandemic and now the new intake cannot suffer the same fate,” he argues. 

Meanwhile, it’s not just the academic careers of students, especially first-years, that could suffer. 

According to Vanishaa Gordon, the Operations Manager of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, universities themselves have had to adapt to online and distance learning in unpredictable conditions while providing some normalcy to students. This on its own is a feat. 

Higher Health reports that since the pandemic started they have responded to 5 000 calls from students on their 24-hour toll-free student helpline on mental health and gender-based violence issues. 

Moholola admits that although UCT has robust systems and technology in place for the academic year, it is evident that students and staff are carrying different emotional loads — such as grief, health problems, anxiety and hopelessness — during this period.  

This is why UCT has put many support services at the students’ disposal through Student Wellness Services.

For Gordon, support groups can be a critical support factor for first-years who are going through a formative transition from high school to a more loosely structured university experience. Talking, although may seem mundane, might be a lifeline of hope to those who struggle alone during these tough times. 

It is yet to be seen how the intersecting factors of NSFAS’s financial woes, university’s online innovation systems and access to resources will affect students and their academic performance. Experts say that academic success during the global pandemic can only be achieved through a well-rounded, inclusive and supportive approach to learning and teaching.  — Nkateko Mabasa

Many school leavers choose to travel in their gap year in order to gain some perspective

Is taking a gap year a good idea?

Gap years continue to be a polarising aspect of completing high school, with many opinions on the matter being on opposite ends: some believe it is a necessary part of succeeding in university while others characterise it as a waste of time. However, gap year programmes have gained immense popularity and can be a stepping stone in deciding one’s career path or taking time to explore a myriad of interests before finally settling on a field of study. 

For Lineo Danke, a gap was exactly what she needed before she started her university studies. “I was so confused as to what exactly I want to study, and taking a gap year allowed me to dabble in different interests,” she explains. “I was artistically inclined, but at the same time I enjoy maths and science. I did very well in matric and everyone expected me to pursue a ‘serious’ degree, but a part of me knew that wouldn’t make me happy, taking that route. A gap year gave me space to make that decision without the pressure from my teachers and family.”

Danke went overseas for her gap year; she applied to be an au pair for a German family and took the time to travel across Europe for a year after that. So in actual fact her gap year became two years long, and resulted in her applying to study at university in the United Kingdom. 

Danke’s approach to a gap was not as structured as some programmes that are offered, but she does not regret her unconventional decision. Structured gap year programmes, such as Beyond Adventures and The Gap Year experience, offer young people unconventional courses such as leadership, entrepreneurship and personal development geared towards helping them choose career paths aligned with their personal interests and skill sets. According to the Gap Year Association, taking a structured gap year assists people to develop into more focused students who are more in tune with their sense of purpose and engagement in the world. Additionally, Joe O’Shea’s book, Gap Year: How Delaying College Changes People in Ways the World Needs, argues that several studies on the academic performance of gap year students while in college found that high school learners who took a gap year were more likely to return enrol into institutions of higher education after the gap year. In short, gap years did not discourage young people from going to university, as many feared.

The study also found that taking a gap year had “a significant positive impact on students’ academic performance in college, with the strongest impact for students who had applied to college with grades on the lower end of the distribution”. Researchers also argue that students who took gap years were more likely to graduate with “higher marks and grade point averages than observationally identical individuals who went straight to college”. This was also observed in gap year students with lower academic achievement in high school. 

Danke believes that she wouldn’t have been able to succeed socially and academically without the two years she took off. She pursued a degree in architecture and still lives abroad. Although she plans on eventually settling down in South Africa, she is enjoying living in the UK and being exposed to different cultures — something she wouldn’t have experienced without her gap years.  “It grounded me and opened my eyes to a different world. Yes, sometimes I’d go on social media and get a little nervous when I saw my high school friends do well in university, but I remembered why I took the time off, and I am the better for it.” — Pontsho Pilane

Tuduetso Malao is confident that he is able to pass matric with flying colours despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Learners prepare to take on matric despite the continuing pandemic

At first it seemed like the lockdown was not going to affect anything. I thought we were going to go back to business as usual soon,” Tuduetso Malao, who was in grade 11 when the pandemic hit South Africa, remembers.  He is now a grade 12 learner, but says having to adjust to the new way of learning was challenging, and the biggest impact of this pandemic in his life has been on his learning journey. 

As the country focused on getting matric learners to complete the academic calendar, many high school learners went on extended school holidays as a result of lockdown regulations. “I realised that we couldn’t go back to what we knew and after three months of not going to school, I became demotivated,” he adds. “When we eventually went back, I was just going with the flow, going for the sake of going.”

While most focus has been on matriculants, grade 11 is just as important in one’s high school journey. It is the stepping stone to grade 12 and a learner’s performance in grade 11 is used to secure a provisional acceptance into tertiary institutions. Additionally, a majority of the grade 11 syllabus extends into grade 12 or is examined in matric. Although the Department of Basic Education announced that the syllabus in the lower grades will be trimmed down to fit into the available teaching time, the content examinable in grade 12 hasn’t been adjusted. 

“Teachers were giving us more work when we finally went back to school, and we had a shorter period of time to complete the work. I think they were under pressure to try and finish the syllabus before another hard lockdown hit, but also knowing that the content will still be examinable in grade 12,” Malao says. 

Duduzile Magano, a grade 11 learner, says the teachers are still giving them a lot of school work and she suspects they are worried that if another hard lockdown is implemented, they won’t be able to complete the grade 11 syllabus in time. “It’s frustrating really, because there are days where it’s just a lot and I find myself sleeping at 3am just to complete all my homework and prepare for a test or two,” she adds. 

This additional workload comes with additional pressure, and this can be a source of stress and anxiety for learners. Malao says he hasn’t actually taken time to adjust to the pressure that comes with this new amount of workload. “I’m just surviving through it while pushing myself to do my optimal best,” he says. He is head boy at his school but doesn’t believe this has added extra pressure on his workload, mainly because there are still limitations as a result of Covid-19 regulations and the typical activities for learner leaders are absent. “It’s something I worked for since I started high school, and it’s a bit of a quiet year in terms of the usual school activities we used to do. So a lot of it just comes from teachers pushing to complete the syllabus, which is understandable under the circumstance, but still stressful and frustrating.”

But many learners, such as Magano, still require additional support to help cope with the academic workload. “I got a private tutor towards the end of last year because I was really struggling with some of my maths work. Recently, we’ve been working a lot on my time management and my weekly schedule. It’s helping me manage the workload and it’s also creating a sense of control,” she says.

Online learning has its benefits

Meanwhile, the 2021 academic year started with a three-week delay as a result of the lockdown regulations introduced to curb the second wave of infections. But private schools were allowed to open earlier than public schools and some public schools with the resources for online learning started the academic years on the originally planned start date, albeit virtually. “We are back at school, so for me, some sense of normalcy has returned. But I think I have adjusted well to the ‘new normal’, as we call it,” Duduzile Magano says. 

She had to miss a few days of school due to illness. “Teachers record lessons and make them available for anyone who misses school these days, which is really helpful, and having come to terms with online learning — the recorded lessons — really helped, because I didn’t miss a lot,”she adds. 

Virtual learning does have its benefits. In addition to teachers being able to teach remotely during the lockdown, learners are able to rewatch recorded lessons at a later stage to gain better understanding. “One of my teachers is not even in the country because of travel restrictions, but because of technology she is able to continue teaching us,” Charles Mendez, a grade 11 learner, says. “It comes with its own challenges, but it also has its benefits. We are still being taught by our teacher instead of a new teacher that we would have to spend time getting used to,” he adds.

Learners are also benefiting from being taught through a variety of teaching mediums. “We get sent YouTube videos, articles and sometimes we even find helpful videos on social media platforms such as TikTok explaining a particular concept better,” Tuduetso Malao says. Additionally, public radio stations and television have also carved out time in their regular programming in attempts to bridge the digital divide for learners with less resources for virtual learning, but some experts and learners have said this is not enough to even the playing field for all learners. 

According to Magano, one of the things she has come to realise during these times is that if she is observant enough, she can find the information she needs to understand a particular concept or complete homework anywhere. “People are going out of their way to make stuff available online, so one of the habits I’ve picked up is searching for better explanations online if I don’t understand something my teacher says in class. Before this, I didn’t really go on social media to learn,” she adds. 

Health experts predict a third wave of infections may hit South Africa at the beginning of winter, but this hasn’t phased some learners.  “I think we will be fine. But I personally prefer learning in class as opposed to virtually; I just find it easier to interact with my teacher and get help whenever I need it,” Magano says. 

On the other hand, Mendez believes everyone is doing the best they can and adjustments can be made if and when they are necessary. “Last year’s matrics had to write exams until mid-December and only got their results in February, so I think us being back at school and not having lost a lot of school days this year is a lot of progress. There isn’t really a big need to learn virtually with schools being open; you can interact with classmates and teachers and get help when you need it.”

But whether or not the world is experiencing a global pandemic, this year’s matriculants know they still have to perform well at the end of the year. And this silent, added pressure is felt by the learners. 

“People don’t have to say it out loud, but you know that the focus is on matric learners. I just hope as many people as possible are getting the support they need, both mentally and academically, to do well this year,” Malao says. “I also hope teachers are going out of their way to make learning easier and effective and are using the tools that are available. Personally, I’m starting to enjoy school again and that’s really a good thing. I had to talk to a few people who helped me change my perspective, but I’m glad I did.” 

Malao is hoping to pass his matric with flying colours and pursue a career in software engineering. “Maybe I’ll get to contribute towards e-learning with my software engineering career,” he laughs. “Who knows?” — Thabo Makgato

One of the main daily activities that the pandemic has taken away from students is social interactions, but connecting over the internet can help

Prioritise your mental health to perform well in your studies

At the beginning of each academic year, learners receive tips and guides that are meant to help them become high achievers, especially grade 12 learners. Everything from study tips to exam techniques are shared with the intention of providing learners with information and tools that will help them perform well academically. 

However, in 2020, a global pandemic swept through the country and added extra layers of challenges related to being a high achiever. Many standard aids were suddenly not available anymore. This required learners, teachers and their support system to look beyond the usual tips and guidelines and find skills that go beyond being just equipped for good academic performance. 

Speaking to Mail & Guardian, learners say that they are struggling with anxiety, stress, an extra workload as a result of the shortened academic calendar, social deprivations and just generally surviving the emotional and mental turmoil of the pandemic. After a decade or more of physically being part of a school community, having 200 days to complete the syllabus and being able to enjoy the added benefits of being part of a school, learners suddenly find themselves navigating uncharted waters. 

According to Sam Kotane, a high school teacher and private tutor, learners need to be equipped to deal with three major areas of their lives, in addition to the usual tips and guides we provide them. “Learners need to prioritise their mental health, be equipped to deal with anxiety and the challenges that come with being deprived of social interactions,” he explains. 

In addition to being a health and economic pandemic, he adds, Covid-19 is also a social pandemic. This is part of the pandemic that affects people’s general mental health the most because we are social beings. “We thrive in community, through being in one and being part of one,” Kotane says. “One of the things I tell my learners and tutoring clients is to be kind to themselves. We are all facing this pandemic at the same time, and each one of us is responding in our own way. With all that’s happening around you, the best thing for you to do is to be kind to yourself. Do your best, and then remind yourself that you did your best. On days you are not your best self, be gentle to yourself.” 

Kotane recalls jokingly saying to one of his learners “when you get a chance, I’m not saying do it now, but when you do get a chance, remember that there is a pandemic out there and you are surviving it” and the learner he was talking to later told him that it helped a lot. “I would catch myself drifting into panic mode and remember your words. I would then take that moment as a chance to remind myself that I am surviving a pandemic and should be kind to myself. It worked like a charm,” the learner said to Kotane at the time. 

Kotane says it’s not that teachers don’t care about the mental health of their learners; it’s just that it is very easy to fall into a routine of getting to class, teaching, giving out work and walking out. 

There is a lot to do as teachers and so much can easily get left undone, he adds. That is why he believes that learners being equipped and encouraged to prioritise their own mental health is important to ensure that learners can perform academically.

Manage your anxiety

When it comes to dealing with anxiety, Kotane believes that it is easier said than done. “We all know the trick,” he says. “Create boundaries and control what you can. Everything else can wait.” Kotane acknowledges that for learners, it is difficult to feel in control because you are given work by your teachers and then told when to submit it. In most cases, they all seem to choose the same day, and this causes anxiety for a lot of learners. 

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, one in four children between the ages of 13 and 18 years suffer from an anxiety disorder — this is also the general age group of high school learners. “Managing anxiety requires structure and control, and boundaries are the best stepping stones to creating a structure that can bring a sense of control in one’s life,” says Kotane. These boundaries do not have to be complex; they can be as simple as having a set of activities you do to regularly ground yourself such as taking afternoon naps, sunset walks or maintaining regular contact with close friends and family. According to Kotane, the most important thing about these “grounding activities” is that they need to be non-negotiable. “Executing on your chosen non-negotiable will create a sense of control in one area of your life that can then spread to other areas, such as your academics,” he adds. As a pivotal point of reference, learners find that it allows them to create a time management structure set around their chosen activity. An afternoon nap can be followed by two hours of homework, followed by dinner. Without going to great lengths, the afternoon nap has created room for a dedicated two hours of school work, every day. This contributes greatly towards completing schoolwork, which has been linked to improved academic performance. 

One of the main daily activities that the pandemic has taken away from people is social interactions. The requirement to socially distance ourselves from others in order to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus has been a challenge and it is difficult for learners who are used to spending hours each day surrounded by their classmates and friends. “One of my tutoring clients was really struggling with this because she is an extrovert. While speaking to her I suggested that she should consider looking at the social distancing requirement as a ‘physical distancing’ requirement, and look for ways to socially interact with their friends and relatives while being physically away from them,” says Kotane. He told her to organise a get-together over Zoom or Skype with her friends and play a game, have a catch-up session and just laugh together. According to Kotane, this helped her feel connected to other people and reduced her stress levels, allowing her to focus on her studies. 

Things might be getting slightly easier now with eased lockdown regulations, but Kotane warns that “it is important to remind learners that the pandemic isn’t over yet”. Learners must be reminded they shouldn’t rush back into doing all the things they used to do pre-pandemic, but at the same time, they should still satisfy their social “craving” and safely connect with their close friends and relatives.

“At the end of the day, learners want to perform well academically. As those tasked with caring for them and guiding them, it is our responsibility to provide them with the tools that will ensure that they succeed. The pandemic has brought new challenges, and we need to help our learners find new ways to overcome them and continue to pursue their dreams.” — Thabo Makgato

Reddam House’s Class of 2020 achieves almost 1 000 distinctions and a 100% matric pass rate

In a year beset with disruptions, lockdowns and uncertainty, the 2020 cohort of 420 matriculants at the Inspired Education Group’s eight Reddam House schools around the country met the year’s challenges head on and delivered exceptional results in the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) National Senior Certificate (NSC) exams. Collectively, the Reddam House matriculants achieved 987 distinctions.

A-aggregates were achieved by 102 students, and A- or B-aggregates were achieved by 252 students. One Reddam House matriculant achieved nine distinctions, 12 achieved eight, and 23 achieved seven.

Ravi Nadasen, CEO of Inspired in South Africa says: “We are so incredibly proud of both our students and our staff. The results are even more remarkable as so much of the year was spent learning at home in online classes. As part of the Inspired education group with over 60 schools across five continents, we have had a unique advantage in sharing best practice in virtual teaching and learning; our live virtual classrooms ensured learning was uninterrupted for every Inspired student last year. This deviation from normal school life underscored that this Class of 2020 has fully embraced the Inspired approach to education: namely lateral thinking, comprehension, and innovative application of skills and concepts.”

Among the many inspiring stories of grit and determination among the students in the Inspired Schools’ Class of 2020 is ChengRan “Benji” Zhang, who arrived at Reddam House Atlantic Seaboard from China speaking only Mandarin in January 2017, as a grade 10 student. Benji has now passed matric well, due to incredible support from staff and students and sheer single-minded persistence.

Luke Manuel of Ravensmead, Cape Town, was awarded a grade 10 scholarship at Reddam House Durbanville in 2018, based on his cricketing prowess. Reddam House Helderfontein had several exceptional students joining the school in grade 11, including Craig Goredema; Dominic Bayne and Saneshan Reddy, who plan to attend the University of Stellenbosch together, with the aim of opening a business together.

Reddam House Constantia is proud of the Class of 2020’s all-round excellent results. They achieved a 100% pass rate with an average of 3.08 distinctions per candidate. 

Inspired Education Group’s South African schools continue to set dynamic, new standards in international academic excellence.

Join our Reddam House Rising Stars at Reddam House Atlantic Seaboard, Constantia and Durbanville in the Western Cape; Reddam House Waterfall, Bedfordview and Helderfontein in Gauteng; Reddam House Umhlanga and Ballito in KwaZulu-Natal.

Kathija Yassim, an Associate Professor in the Department of Education Leadership and Management at the University of Johannesburg, advocates for a strong ECD programme. “The idea that a child becomes the school’s responsibility at age six needs reconsideration.”

Sound ECD guarantees better academic outcomes

The quality of education in South African has always been a contested subject, particularly between education experts, academics and the Department of Basic Education (DBE). The latter uses the National Senior Certificate pass rate to gauge the performance, quality and maturity of the country’s education system. 

But critics of the DBE argue that the national pass rate alone cannot be used as a credible and reliable tool to assess the true state of the South African education model. They say the recent poor performance of intermediate phase learners in the international literacy and numeracy tests reveal the fundamental weaknesses of the education system. 

There are also claims that many learners are being promoted through the foundation phase even if they do not have the basic reading and numeracy skills that will enable them to learn at higher levels. 

Institutions of higher learning have consistently raised concerns about the competency levels of learners who have completed grade 12, citing their inability to read, write or count competently as some of the problems that make them unemployable. 

Experts say that investment in early childhood development (ECD) education has shown globally to be the only effective way the DBE can turn around and improve the overall quality of education across all the different levels. 

They say ECD is the crucial phase which consists of the first 1 000 days or two years from the birth of the baby, adding that brain development takes place during this period at a faster rate. 

This development, they observed, prepares the baby’s neurological mechanisms for future learning, particularly because the brain is easily moulded at this early stage; but this biological process has to be augmented by stimulation. 

Kathija Yassim, an Associate Professor in the Department of Education Leadership and Management at the University of Johannesburg, is one of the advocates for a strong ECD. She says there is an absolute need to integrate ECD as part of the entire education system, particularly in poor communities. She spoke to the Mail &Guardian to highlight the importance of the ECD and how poor early learning can negatively impact the outcomes and performance of grade 12 learners.

Yassim said there is a direct correlation between quality ECD education and learner success. From a biological perspective, brain development and the ability to master language, literacy and numeracy development in the early years serve to provide children with opportunities for later success. 

“Many learners drop out of school because of learning backlogs in the early years, compounded with poor socioeconomic conditions and other circumstances that disadvantage them from the very beginning,” says Yassim. 

The literature, she adds, suggests that two or more years’ exposure to an ECD programme is more beneficial than one, and that 15 hours per week is the minimum recommended participation time. She said a recent study showed that children who had higher levels of ECD programme exposure had significantly better learning outcomes, and children who were enrolled for at least three years showed even greater gains. 

“Efforts to support better access to high quality early learning programmes must, therefore, go hand-in-hand with efforts to ensure retention and regular attendance. The cumulative effect of South Africa’s investments in ECD services, from health and nutrition to early learning, can determine with time the proportion of children who are developmentally ‘on track’ for age increases.”

She says one of the major reasons why the country produces poor quality matric outcomes is primarily because the ECD for most children is unstable and of poor quality. “Long-term investments towards long-term gains — hence the pipeline for success begins at birth, not at high school, when often it is too late,” said Yassim. 

She says learners who attend preschool before entering primary school often score higher than those who did not, and that early literacy activities and stimulation at the pre-primary school level is very significant. 

Yassim says exposure to early learning provides a firm foundation upon which the child’s growth and development hinges: “A child’s home environment and the parenting practices in early development are important for early language, cognitive and socioemotional development.” 

She points out that investment in education in South Africa has not been integrated with a supportive pipeline process through which children are provided a holistic approach to education from birth to grade 12. 

“A child’s long-term development is a function of a package of interrelated and integrated services, covering the period from conception to six years of age, known as the essential package for ECD,” says Yassim.

She says most of South Africa’s children are born into environments that reduce their chances to realise their potential due to a range of factors including poor nutrition, inadequate living environments, lack of security and social protection and limited opportunities for quality early learning and stimulation. 

The net impact of this, she notes, is that their economic potential is reduced; when they are older, their chances of completing schooling are severely limited and it becomes difficult for them to complete matric. 

Two years ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that implementing ECD would shift from the Department of Social Development to the DBE. Players within the sector and ECD practitioners welcome the development, saying this will enhance co-ordination and integration of ECD into the education system. Ramaphosa further said that the government would make an additional year of schooling (Grade RR) mandatory. In many ways, Yassim confirms that this is a firm recognition of the importance of ECD.

She also notes that there is a shortage of both adequately qualified ECD teachers and quality ECD programmes that children, particularly those in poorer communities, can access. Yassim also calls for the composition of the teaching staff at the early education facilities to reflect more male teachers.

“ECD is often viewed as an extension of caregiving at home, so unqualified individuals are often employed to take care of young children. In addition, this sector is serviced mainly by females, with fewer men wanting an occupation so closely linked to mothering. Yet the absence of male role models at home makes the male presence in the ECD and Foundation Phases a necessary imperative.”

She says even though the first two years of life represent an important window of opportunity for brain development, there is very little in place to support early learning: “Just over one fifth (21%) of children aged birth to two years are enrolled in a group programme for early learning, such as a crèche or playgroup. Another 9% are reported to be in the care of a day mother, child-minder, or gogo. The remaining 70% are likely being cared for at home by their mothers or other family members.”

Many children under two years are never read to by their caregivers, who seldom or engage in key activities likely to improve early learning outcomes, such as telling stories or playing. 

Yassim does not believe emphasis should be put on practitioner qualifications, saying qualifications alone are not enough to make a difference. Rather, she says, oversight, mentoring and on-site support from suitably qualified personnel such as partnerships with primary school teachers are vital for quality improvement and successful programme delivery. 

Asked about what role can school leadership play to help provide access to ECD education, Yassim says the first thing to do is for primary school leaders to engage with and foster community-based partnerships. Prenatal and antenatal programmes as well as community engagements that support caregivers at home should be part of what school leaders pay attention to. In addition, the quality of ECD programmes available for children can be evaluated by school leaders and foundation phase teachers to ensure a smooth transition to school in the later years. 

“Feeder ECD programmes, or homes in the community from which children come from should be engaged with so that a pipeline for learner success is created in partnership with other stakeholders. The idea that a child becomes the school’s responsibility at age six needs reconsideration. Integration of services means that school leaders are a part of a process that supports a success pipeline from birth to grade 12,” she says.

A success pipeline involves all stakeholders responsible for a child’s wellbeing, including the Departments of Health and Social Services, the provision of social grants, the involvement of religious and community organisations, and the private sector — all need to work together in an integrated way to build a solid ECD foundation that supports learning throughout a child’s school career. — Thabo Mohlala

The Holy Rosary class of 2020 achieved excellent results despite the disruptions caused by the pandemic, and advise this year’s matrics to stay focussed on what they need to do to in order to obtain the same results, or better

Advice for the matrics of 2021

The class of 2020 had a matric year like none before them. Holy Rosary High School Principal Belinda Damhuis had this message for them: “Congratulations to our matrics of 2020 — fearless and resilient! You never gave up and showed perseverance and grit that will serve you well in the next chapter of your life and beyond. We wish you the very best in whatever path you have chosen, and we know that you have what it takes to achieve the success you desire. We would also like to thank the teachers who guided and supported these young ladies through these unchartered waters.”

Our matrics achieved a 100% pass rate and a 99% bachelor degree pass, with every one of them achieving their personal bests in their final examinations. Our top achievers Kristen Loo and Simone de Castro achieved averages of 94% and 91% respectively. Vicky Chen, who also achieved eight distinctions, took 10 subjects, including the Trinity College of London Music Practical Grade 7, in which she achieved a distinction. Loo, De Castro and Courtney Laros were in the top 5% of IEB matrics of 2020 in six or more subjects, and along with Tyla Bibis are in the top 1% of IEB candidates for certain subjects.

The next chapter for most of our class of 2020 involves tertiary studies in a wide range of disciplines including medicine, actuarial science, biochemistry, mechanical engineering, law, architecture, music, teaching, film and digital marketing. 

Our 2020 matrics have this advice for the matrics of 2021: work hard from the beginning and work consistently; stay ahead of your deadlines, don’t leave anything to the last minute; set your goals, stay motivated and focussed on what you need to do to achieve them; do as many past papers as you can throughout the year; try hard to keep a balance in your life to manage stress and mental health; manage your time effectively every day, persevere through the challenges and be prepared to step outside of your comfort zones. 

Respice Stellam (look to the stars)

It’s critical that students look after their mental and physical wellbeing in order to perform academically

How to survive your first year during a global pandemic

The class of 2020 had to spend their last year of high school in a global pandemic. Now that they have jumped through all those hurdles of yesteryear, another challenge is on the horizon. How does one make it through your first year of university, especially when Covid-19 is heading towards its third wave? 

Here are some helpful tips: they are short and punchy and will provide first year students with a good mental health immune system for the new, exciting but challenging road ahead. 

According to Chavelela Mashamba, a mining engineering graduate from the University of Witwatersrand, the most fundamental thing about surviving first year is to remember “the key is not in spending time, but in investing it”. 

For Mashamba, time investment is key to a meaningful transition between high school and university: “Live every moment fully, but you owe to yourself to account for it yourself at the end of each day. In addition to studying earnestly, do things that help you invest your time wisely.” 

Andiswa Mkosi, a multimedia artist and graduate of the Market Theatre Workshop, says that a proper time investment is when students take time out for themselves and for their wellbeing.

But because of the pandemic, the new academic model is geared towards a more blended learning approach — a combination of home distance learning and in-person assessments. Matric learners who were eager to bid farewell to home, their small towns, townships or villages, are now finding themselves in a worst-case scenario. They have to study and continue to live at home with family, with different levels of access to virtual learning aids such as a stable internet connectivity, a laptop and the space to attend lectures and study in peace. 

“I would say, be cautious of your mental health and take any signs or symptoms of depression, anxiety and panic attacks very seriously,” Mkosi warns. 

Senior Director of Academic Staff at Wits Diane Grayson says it is critical to have concrete everyday steps to follow as an anchor, so as to not get swept up in the tumultuous road ahead.

“Think of university as a full-time job. Depending on your programme, plan to spend 40 to 50 hours a week on your studies. Manage your time, take note of deadlines and start working well ahead of time.” 

It’s important to ask for help, Grayson adds. When students start to fall behind or don’t understand some of the work, they need to ask for help immediately.

Mashamba agrees: “Put away your pride every single day, it will enable you to ask for help when you need it.”

It’s critical that students look after their mental and physical wellbeing in order to perform academically. This includes eating healthy, well-balanced meals, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep and looking for psychosocial support when they feel anxious, sad, lonely or unwell. 

Many universities have programmes designed to support first-time students as they transition from high school to university. These services range from academic, social and psychological support geared and making the transition less traumatic and creating a conducive academic and social environment for students. 

This support also assists students to keep focus and to not lose their identity and purpose during the academic years. While there is no foolproof guide to surviving university, taking the necessary precautions to care for one’s mental, emotional and physical health goes a long way to ensuring success. — Nkateko Mabasa

Adequate nutrition is key to better academic performance, says Tiger Brands Foundation

An increasing amount of scientific data exists that shows that nutritional status can directly affect the mental capacity of learners, as well as having an impact on school attendance and behavioural patterns.

Food insecurity has long been a problem in South Africa, with 11% of the population (6.5 million people) suffering from hunger in 2019, according to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA). The lockdown measures introduced by the government to fight the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated the crisis.

Child hunger remains a huge challenge in South Africa, with Stats SA revealing that more than half a million households with children aged five years or younger experienced hunger in 2017. Aside from chronic hunger, food insecurity in South Africa has also resulted in malnutrition among children. 

The worst affected are children below school-going age (under the age of five) who in some cases suffer from severe malnutrition and stunted growth. In 2018/19, more than 800 children were reported to have died in public hospitals and clinics in South Africa from severe malnutrition.

Tiger Brands Foundation Director Eugene Absolom says good educational outcomes can directly be linked to learners having access to good nutrition, which in turn can have a positive impact on their socioeconomic circumstances.

“Many young learners in South Africa are exposed to multiple risks, including malnutrition, poverty, poor health and poorly stimulating home environments that can detrimentally affect their cognitive, motor, and social and emotional development,” says Absolom.

He notes that one of the main purposes of the Foundation is to support underprivileged communities that struggle with poverty. The Foundation aims to make a noticeable socioeconomic impact in these communities by ensuring that learners have access to good nutrition.

“The Foundation’s mandate is to facilitate economic transformation in South Africa through improving learner health and education outcomes,” explains Absolom. “It does this through partnering with the Department of Basic Education and schools to implement an in-school breakfast programme.” 

Absolom says the Foundation also supports education through building nutrition centres, thought leadership activities, research, and capacity building.

The Foundation established an in-school breakfast programme to complement the lunch programme provided by the Department of Basic Education, as part of the National Schools Nutrition Programme (NSNP). The Foundation works closely with the NSNP team in the selection of schools, with strict criteria applied to each school before the in-school programme is implemented.

“We are working closely with partners to deliver and implement an in-school breakfast meal to learners, teachers and support staff, which will serve as a complimentary meal offering to the already existing NSNP,” says Absolom.

Currently, 9.6-million learners depend on school meals as their only source of daily nutrition. The Foundation’s in-school breakfast model has been rolled out to 101 schools across all nine provinces in South Africa, feeding more than 74 000 learners per school day.

However, last year during the lockdown, the programme ground to a halt when the NSNP was suspended. This forced the foundation to switch to delivering food hampers to ensure that learners remained well-nourished.

During the global Covid-19 pandemic and in reaction to its winning the Nobel Peace Prize on 9 October 2020, the UN’s World Food Programme noted that “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos …”

This has long been the view of the Tiger Brands Foundation and their partners, and has surely become more clearly understood by many others during the Covid-19 pandemic and South Africa’s related state of disaster in 2020/21.

The pandemic surprised society, and the lockdown measures taken to combat it had negative outcomes for many people, not least as it affected their food security. In this regard, the most negatively affected are, as always, children. 

This is partly to do with the great importance that good nutrition plays in shaping life opportunities from a young age, and also because many young South Africans are greatly dependent on the provision of nutritional food security through particularly public sector programmes, buttressed by related private sector interventions.

The state of disaster didn’t create hunger in South Africa, but it did expose just how fragile the food security situation is in the country. Before Covid-19, some of this fragility had been “papered over” by the stop-gap measures taken to deal with immediate food insecurity, such as the normal operation of the NSNP.

Indeed, no-one foresaw, nor could fairly have been expected to foresee, a situation of prolonged shutdown of schools across the country, and thus of the resultant suspension of the functioning of the NSNP.

Similarly, the unprecedented lockdown of economic activities and thus of the ability of many households to secure regular private income further exposed the country’s overall food insecurity situation. 

Quite simply, the results of economic shutdowns laid bare just how little room for financial manoeuvre most South Africans have. 

We are a society where those fortunate enough to have employment live paycheque-to-paycheque without reserves. For the four-in-10 of the pool of the Economically Active Population who are without employment (Stats SA expanded definition of unemployment), the situation can be dire.   

Thus, the depth of the country’s food insecurity reality, played out at household level, was brutally exposed in 2020.

Absolom says the Foundation’s change in focus during the pandemic was prompted by the realisation that vulnerable groups would benefit from a restructured service or model, even if it is in the short-term, rather than to be left to slip further below the poverty line, when programmes such as the NSNP are not active, for instance, during school holidays.

“We switched to delivering food hampers last year, which were distributed to learners and their families, and included far more than the usual breakfast,” says Absolom. “In fact, the hampers contain enough food to feed an average family.

“This was a temporary measure, and we have since resumed all other activities associated with the in-school breakfast programme, but it demonstrated the agility and flexibility with which we, as stakeholders, need to act to ensure that our most vulnerable communities remain well-nourished.”

In terms of driving sustainability, the Foundation is also involved in the School Food Gardens Programme, which is an important pillar of the NSNP. 

Under this initiative, schools are encouraged to establish food gardens from which they obtain fresh produce to supplement their menus, in line with South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines.

“This programme provides learners, teachers and parents with skills to grow their own gardens, contributing towards long-term household food security. These gardens are also used as a teaching and learning resource for learners, and to beautify the school environment,” Absolom explains.

Furthermore, he notes that the Foundation has also recognised the need to be innovative in its approach to supporting vulnerable communities amid the ongoing pandemic. The Foundation recently included protective masks with their back-to-school meals for beneficiaries at the start of the school year.

In addition, the Foundation focuses on a range of other initiatives and programmes to ensure that the most vulnerable learners and communities have access to the right nutrition, including the training of food handlers and distributors. 

“Our partners, together with the foundation, ensured that 90 000 masks were delivered to our beneficiaries during their first meal of the school year,” says Absolom. “While we are elated to have learners back in the classroom, we remain vigilant about their safety as they learn.” 

#SavingTheClassOf2020 TOP ACHIEVERS

The devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was extremely detrimental to the academic calendar in 2020. The lockdown restrictions imposed to save lives resulted in a significant loss of crucial class time — specifically for the majority of matriculants who attended public schools and had no resources to access online classes. 

#SavingTheClassOf2020 was a national Covid-19 education response programme — led by Primestars and YouthStart Foundation — implemented with the objective to provide comprehensive Caps-aligned Matric Math & Science Revision sessions to thousands of learners from under-resourced communities across South Africa. 

The successful programme was made possible by the support of the Department of Basic Education, but mainly by the committed corporate citizens who funded the rollout of the much-needed intervention. 

Impact touch-points

20 000+ Attendances in CINEMA 

4 000+ Attendances in RURAL SCHOOLS

19 000+ Engagements on DIGITAL mediums 

30 000+ Views on TELEVISION 

Covid-19 and Safety Protocols: The safety of all learners, teachers and staff was of paramount importance throughout the implementation. Strict protocols were put in place at all stages including during arrival at schools, embarking and disembarking of busses, line-ups at screening venues, seating at screening venues and during the return to schools. 

This included the distribution of thousands of masks, sanitisers, social distancing at all stages, temperature testing, provision of sealed refreshments, continuous cleaning of venues and busses, preparation of contingencies, appointment of on-the-ground compliance staff as well as safety training for all facilitators. 

We are extremely proud that there were no cases of Covid-19 reported throughout the programme. 

An independent impact study on the improvement in participating schools was being conducted when this article went to print, but some Top Achievers have already been identified, including: 

Bloemfontein High School 

Vincent Magqibelo: Five distinctions:  (83% maths, 81% physical science) 

He was our head boy.  He was 17 years old when he wrote matric. He was hard-working from grade eight and took part in maths Olympiads.  He lost his mother to Covid-19 in 2020.  He went through a difficult time but made the decision to make her proud in the final exams.  And he did: he received five distinctions and two Bs. Magqibelo is always very neat and he is proud of his school.  He never missed one of the Sunday classes at Mimosa Mall.

Sir Pierre Van Ryneveld

William Mncube. Grade 12 class of 2020. Matric results: seven distinctions: maths 95%, phy sc 94%, LO 90%, music 88%, accounting 89%, life sc 85%, Afr 82% and Eng 77%.

William Mncube is a dedicated learner who excelled in all subjects from his primary school days. He was raised by a single mom after the loss of his dad while he was still an infant. His academic record has always been excellent, though he had to be the protective figure for his mom and sister.

Marlboro Gardens Secondary School

Tayyibah Fakir. Seven distinctions (90% for maths and 92% for physical science).

She is a most diligent learner, who with self-discipline and dedication devoted herself to her studies. She will be pursuing a career in pharmacy and has been accepted at Wits University. She is 18 years old and went the extra mile.

Congratulations to the class of 2020 and thank you to all the sponsors for making this possible.

Thousands of learners attended cinemas as part of an education programme sponsored by the YouthStart Foundation and Primestars

2021: bigger and better 

Since the success of the 2020 intervention, public schools across South Africa have already started requesting assistance for 2021. This year’s rollout promises to be bigger and better, reaching more learners in more communities under the new hashtag #StandingWithTheClassOf2021 

This year’s intervention will leverage various touch-points including cinema, in-school (rural), digital and television to ensure that even more matric learners in need of support are accommodated in communities across South Africa. 

The programme will be a proactive, one-of-a-kind intervention, building on the lessons of 2020 and offering a safe, tested, scalable, adaptable and credible programme for companies to get involved in. 

Funders mainly support the programme through transformation spend, including socioeconomic development (SED) and enterprise development (ED), Covid-19 response funding as well as Section 18A spend through donations to enable the delivery of public benefit activities.  

We need YOUR help to reach more learners

While Primestars and YouthStart Foundation may be the catalyst for these impactful programmes, we cannot do it alone. If we are to succeed in achieving sustainable development, it is essential that we continue to encourage public-private partnerships with like-minded organisations and individuals who share our vision. We invite co-investors to join our movement that takes learners on a journey from schoolroom to boardroom.   

For more information, click here or here


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