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School intent on keeping high standards

Glen Cowie Secondary, in rural Limpopo, produces some outstanding matric results in maths and science – and one of the country’s top pupils in 2012. As a member of the IDC’s Whole School Development Programme, the only way is upwards.

June 5, 2013

CSiglen insideGlen Cowie deputy principal and physical science teacher, Thabitha Leojetse

In the midst of shrubs and narrow, zigzagging roads in the mountainous Sekhukhune District of Limpopo lies Glen Cowie Secondary School, a jewel of a place. A public school operating on private property, it is an all-girls boarding school built by the Catholic Church in 1967, and named after the village of Glen Cowie, where it is located.

It is among the province’s best performing schools in mathematics, physical science and commercial subjects, which has developed into a culture it has kept for years. For this reason, the school was selected as one 20 across South Africa for adoption by the Industrial Development Corporation, on its Whole School Development Programme.

The programme is run through the corporation’s corporate social investment department, with a partner NGO, Adopt-A-School Foundation. Its purpose is to help disadvantaged but promising schools perform better in technology subjects such as maths and physical science. This is in line with the national government’s goal of cultivating more science professionals. Under the IDC programme, teachers from the selected schools get extensive training and the schools are helped with upgrading their facilities where necessary.

In 2012, Glen Cowie surpassed expectations when it produced one of the country’s overall top matrics, Mmadikgetho Komane, who scored a clean sweep with 100 percent in mathematics, accounting and physical science. She is now studying actuarial science at Wits University.

Surprisingly for this feat, the school has limited facilities. Yet when its name is mentioned in end of the year results, it may be well be mistaken for a former model C school. But in reality, it is a humble school in rural Glen Cowie with the many issues that come with the territory.

CSIglen inside1Glen Cowie has achieved exceptional matric results of late

Laboratory is needed

One of the school’s mammoth challenges that hinders its goal to be one of the leading maths and science facilities in the country, is the lack of a functioning laboratory. It has a tiny, ill-equipped laboratory that has to be shared by the pupils from grades eight to 12.

It was built by the school about 10 years ago, after years of operating in a very small classroom, which had been converted into a laboratory. It can fit approximately 40 pupils, but it has deteriorated over time as the school could not afford to maintain it. It has only a handful of apparatus, some of which is broken. There is also a little storage room with a few containers of chemicals.

But the deputy principal of the school and a physical science teacher, Thabitha Leojetse, says they have to make do. Any pupil can achieve or even outshine Komane’s standards, irrespective of the disadvantages, she stresses, but cautions that it takes extreme hard work. “As long as they have focus, and give their studies their full time attention.”

She insists it did not take a rocket scientist to predict that Komane was destined for big things. “She was very focused and had a love for her subjects. She knew exactly what she wanted, and that meant putting school work first priority. I could not say she was intelligent that much, because if she did not study you could see. We expected that she would be one of the top performers.”

Leojetse’s office walls are covered with pictures of some of the school’s best pupils and newspaper cuttings of the bigger events of her career. She also has her personal awards on display. Among her accolades is the award for overall best teacher in the provincial awards in the category for excellence in secondary education, won in 2009.

CSIglen inside2Learners are encouraged to study hard

Science teachers improvise

She says that most of the time, science teachers have to improvise to make up for the lack of apparatus and chemicals needed to perform experiments. “Myself as a science educator, I supplement the work using the internet, videos and all that from examples. Some of the experiments that I cannot do myself, I download freely from the internet just to show learners what is going on.”

Leojetse was also a pupil at the school. “Practical work is very important because it helps learners to understand better, but sometimes we are forced to only watch [the practical experiments] on screen because we do not have all the apparatus,” she says.

There are 415 pupils at Glen Cowie, and the school does not have a functioning computer laboratory, meaning that pupils do not have access to computers or the internet to do research. Leojetse uses her personal computer to download experiments and uses the data projector to display them in class.

In spite of the odds stacked against them, the school’s track record in physical science and pure maths has been stellar, and its academic record speaks volumes. In 2010, it achieved a 98 percent matric pass in physical science; in 2011, it was a clean sweep with a 100 percent pass rate; a level achieved again in 2012. There are 42 physical science pupils in Grade 12 this year and the goal is to ensure that they pass with distinctions to reaffirm Glen Cowie’s position, according to Leojetse.

The results in pure maths have been also been steady, though the school has not clinched a 100 percent pass rate in a while. In 2010, it recorded a 98 percent pass rate; in 2011, this dropped to 59 percent; but this improved in 2012, when it recorded a 91.8 percent matric pass rate. This year, only 11 out of 63 pupils are doing pure maths, however; the remainder are doing maths literacy, Leojetse, says, explaining that it is difficult for all students do to pure maths, because some are slow learners and it is difficult to grasp some of the concepts.

There is only one maths teacher for Grade 12, adding to pupils’ challenges as they are unable to get individual attention, she remarks. The school has a total of three maths teachers, and Leojetse reckons that having one more maths teacher will help. For physical science, there are four teachers.

Extra lessons added

Glen Cowie is working overtime to maintain its status. “This year, the SGB [school governing bodies] has decided to introduce extra lessons for learners in Grade 12 in maths, science and accounting.”

But the school is not only concentrating on the exiting class: it is planning to build a strong foundation as well. “Seeing that the maths, natural science and economic management sciences pass rates were deteriorating, the SGB deemed it fit to have a similar extra lesson programme in lower grades … We are starting with Grade 9.”

The additional lessons take place on Saturdays and the teachers on the programme are paid from the school’s coffers. Leojetse’s main desire is to have a functioning laboratory where the pupils can experience science first hand. “We want to get more learners interested in the subject. If we are able to do things practically, then learners can understand better. We also are looking to get a computer lab.”

In total, Glen Cowie has 10 functional classrooms and a library. It also publishes an annual school magazine called Luximea. “A lot of leaners participate as journalists and editors, but the challenge is we do not have a computer lab. The publication helps to improve the learners’ writing abilities. A computer laboratory will also help our children to get information on the internet that can help with their studies,” Leojetse concludes.

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