Posted on October 22, 2009 · Posted in SF Fellow

The Sunday Times newspaper commissioned a study of South African schools which they released this last weekend. There is a lot of information in the report and one could spend a lot of time unpacking it. The Sunday Times chose to highlight some things that would definitely lead to a fair amount of debate, some of the classic ones being:

  • same-sex versus co-ed schools, and
  • girls being smarter than boys.

I’m not really very interested in venturing down either of those paths at this time, or at any time for that matter.

The report is worth a couple of blog posts but I’d like to start by just focusing on one school that was mentioned. Mbilwi Secondary School was ranked in the survey as the top science school in the country. It is a school that I have never heard and, I am quite sure, many other people had never heard of. I haven’t done any additional research on Mbilwi … yet, but there are somethings that jump out at me from the report:

  • Mbilwi has large classes, and
  • students have to share study guides.

Why do those fact jump out? Large classes and a lack of resources are often cited reasons for poor preformance at schools. Reading a little further they point out just how large the classes are (pupil:teacher ratio of 56:1) and that the school attributes their success to:

  • identifying weak learners at the beginning of matric and providing extra support 4 days a week right up until the final exams,
  • extra tuition on Saturdays, and
  • focusing on more than Grade 12 but working to help learners from Grade 8.

These are the reported statistics that allowed them to achieve the top spot (Matric 2008 numbers):

  • 201 Matrics cadidates
  • Pass rate 100%
  • Univeristy entrance 93%
  • 309 A symbols
  • 80% passed Maths with more than 50%
  • 75% passed Science with more 50%

My take-away from this is that a lot can be done with the right attitude. If the learners didn’t want to learn the extra tuition wouldn’t mean anything, if the teachers didn’t care but were forced to provide the extra tuition they’d not do a very good job. The fact that they do it, do it well and that it is well received tells me that everyone involved with Mbilwi has reaslised that the problem is not insurmountable and that hard work can pay off, if everyone does their best working together.

Another point I can’t help but mention,  EVEN THE NUMBER 1 science school in South Africa will benefit from having access to FHSST, Siyavula and OpenPress to solve their resources problems.

About the Author

Mark Horner is the CEO of Siyavula Education, a social enterprise working in the school sector in South Africa. While working as the Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow for Open and Collaborative Resources, Mark was able to transform the Free High School Science Texts (FHSST) project, which he co-founded, into Siyavula Education. In this process, openly-licensed, collaboratively authored textbooks have been printed and distributed nationally in South Africa. Working at the intersection of community, openness and technology; Mark intends to leverage this success to make Siyavula an innovative, technology provider in education that works effectively as part of the education community to ensure better learning opportunities for all. A recent notable event being the delivery of Siyavula's textbooks over Mxit, the most popular mobile chat solution in South Africa. Mark has a PhD in physics from the University of Cape Town and conducted his research at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California on the results from the STAR experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. His work is carried out in the belief that the liberation of information and support of education in South Africa will lead to a peaceful and prosperous future for all South Africans.