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Dedication gets results

At Phagamang Secondary School there is no laboratory, and only six classrooms are functional, yet the school still scores a 100 percent matric pass rate in science. With the IDC’s help, it plans to build on this success.

May 23, 2013

CSIphagamang insideAcademic performance has improved at Phagamang, says Principal Dikgwari Rapholo

In the corner of a classroom with broken windows, chairs and desks, is a rusted steel cupboard. In it, a few containers store chemicals – this is all Phagamang Secondary School in Limpopo has for a laboratory. Despite these meagre resources, the school managed a 100 percent pass rate in physical science for two consecutive years. It has become something of a science centre of excellence.

So much so that pupils from neighbouring areas leave their schools to travel great distances to Phagamang, with a quest to achieve better results in science subjects. Most pupils from the school have been accepted for further study at various universities across the country to pursue science careers.

Phagamang is a no-fee paying school about 15 kilometres from the small town of Bochum in the village of Ga Molele. The school falls under the Overdyk Community Authority in the Capricorn District.

It is one of 20 schools nationwide adopted by the Industrial Development Corporation through its corporate social investment unit’s Whole School Development Programme. The IDC has partnered with Adopt a School, an NGO, in the venture to help disadvantaged but promising schools to achieve better results, with a focus on maths and science as priority areas. This is in line with the priorities of the national government.

The schools will be under the umbrella of the two organisations for five years, during which time maths and science teachers will be offered extensive training. Infrastructure upgrades will be provided where needed to create a conducive environment for teaching and learning.

Matric results

CSIphagamang insideThe school runs a feeding scheme

Phagamang, a Pedi word meaning “rise up”, has seen its star rise in the past three years. Prior to that, the school had not done well in its matric pass rate. Then, the matric physical science pass rate rose to 84,6 percent in 2010, 100 percent in 2011, and again 100 percent in 2012. Maths followed a similar upward trend, with a 56.4 percent pass rate in 2010, 64 percent in 2011 and 64.6 percent in 2012.

These results have brought an influx of pupils eager to improve their prospects, which has brought with it another set of issues. Firstly, there are not enough classrooms – the school has only three blocks and six functional classrooms. The first block, built by the community in 1989, is still intact. The other two blocks built later – one by the government and the other by the school – are dilapidated. Secondly, the school is understaffed. Just 12 teachers are responsible for the 407 pupils enrolled in 2013.

Results bring pupils

Phagamang services five communities, namely Werden, Witten, Bochum, Dilaeng and the immediate community of Overdyk. Deputy principal Sello Leshabela says all these areas have a high school, but “they are just attracted by our results. Parents have no problem paying for transport because they want the best for their children.”

Principal Dikgwari Rapholo says the school applied for additional teachers with the Department of Education on numerous occasions, but has not been successful.

“We qualify [for] two more teachers, one a maths teacher and one a language teacher. We will continue to engage the Department of Education until it answers our plea,” says Rapholo. But the challenges faced by the school now, she adds, are just water under the bridge compared to the Phagamang of 1989, her first year as principal. In that terrible year, only three pupils passed. “We have improved greatly as the school. Today we are one of the best in maths and science. We will continue to strive for the best.”

CSIphagamang insideDespite limited resources, teaching goes on.

Leshabela attributes the success in science subjects to the fact that the school has retained the same maths and science teachers for a long time, bringing consistency – something that did not happen in the past. “Previously, we had problems with maths and science teachers because they were not permanently employed. They would leave every time there was a permanent post elsewhere; sometimes they left us during the course of the year,” he explains.

Things started to shape up when the school secured two foreign teachers for maths and science. “Every year we renew their contracts. They are always with the learners, hence the performance is satisfactory … We are able to retain them because they are not eligible for a promotion because they come from outside countries,” adds Rapholo, who says some of the great science teachers were promoted by Department of Education and left the school.

Pupils have a passion for mainstream maths, and many of them study pure maths. “Out of 53 in matric this year, 31 are doing pure maths, so a lot of learners are interested in pursuing mainstream maths and science careers after matric,” Leshabela says.

Science teacher

Renkai Zendar, a foreign teacher who has been with the school for five years, is convinced that a crop of motivated pupils and teachers has been the driving force behind the school’s success. “If you ask us how we have been doing so great without resources, I would say it is because our learners and educators are motivated and focused.”

Zendar, a physical science teacher for grades 10, 11 and 12, says there is great discipline among the pupils, irrespective of their coming from homes that in most instants are characterised by absent parenting. “When we say learners must come for weekend lessons, they always attend, all of them.”

Science students are sometimes disadvantaged by a lack of a proper laboratory. “In the exams, they sometimes ask very practical things, such as what is a beaker,” he says. “You will be surprised at some of the answers that you get. Some of the learners have never seen a beaker in their lives so it is a challenge we are faced with. If our learners were practically orientated then this was going to enhance the quality of our results.”

In many cases, they have to improvise when conducting experiments: “Sometimes we have to use homemade containers for mixing chemicals in place of beakers,” says Zendar. The only time the pupils are exposed to a proper laboratory is on the occasional visits to the University of Limpopo. “We normally apply to the university use the laboratories once a while, so that our learners can understand some of the things,” Rapholo explains.

“Working without a laboratory is a great challenge for us because sometimes we are not able to link theory with practical,” he says. But Zendar has spent enough time with the pupils to understand their weaknesses: “Sometimes you need to employ different methods of teaching. Some learners take time to understand, so they require individual attention, while some work better in groups.”

Dedicated students

CSIphagamang insidePhysical science teacher Renkai Zendar says educators are motivated

Nonyeaboodi Ngoako, a 17-year-old Grade 12 physical science pupil, is one of Zendar’s shining stars. He is aiming for distinctions in maths and science and aspires to pursue electrical engineering at Wits University. And he is not letting the conditions at his school get in the way of his goals. “I just need to be dedicated and have much interest in my subjects and practise a lot.

“My parents do not to encourage me to focus on my books, but I have found motivation here,” he says. A huge percentage of parents in Overdyk and the surrounding communities are uneducated and most work in the farm lands. “Most of the children have to juggle school and parenting responsibilities,” says Leshabela.

Another Grade 12 physical science student, Thato Motadi, is aiming for distinctions in physical science, mathematics, agriculture and life sciences. “I am not where I am supposed to be right now with my performance, but I will pull up my socks. I should have good marks in the June results.”

In an attempt to keep up the standards, the school has put in place additional lessons. Before the first bell rings for assembly at 8am, the first lesson is already done and dusted – it starts at 7am and runs until 8am. The second extra session is held after school from 3pm to 4 pm. There are also Saturday lessons.

Zendar is certain that his students will do wonders come the end of the year. “These are very focused learners; I have no doubt that they are destined for greatness.”

Rapholo’s wish is to see a fully furnished laboratory at the high school, and for Phagamang to be a science school of distinction. “We have done it without resources; if the IDC can help us to get a better laboratory, then we will perform even better. We want to be the best in the province, if possible. Most importantly, we want to produce a 100 percent pass in all the classes, not only matric,” she concludes.

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