Matric miracle: 8% to 98% in four years

Four years ago a meagre eight percent of the matriculants in Seemahale Secondary School in Botshabelo in the Free State passed their final school year.

On Tuesday, a full 98% of this year’s 108 Seemahale matrics learnt that they had earned the Senior Certificate. Their achievement won the resource-poor school the title of best improved Free State school.

Seemahale serves 1 100 children from Section K, an impoverished part of the apartheid-created township Botshabelo, around 60km east of Bloemfontein.

Its top matriculant, Lindiwe Prins, was among the province’s 100 top matric achievers. Her performance perfectly demonstrated the school’s hard-earned success.

She shares a two-roomed house—only a kitchen and bedroom—with her domestic worker mother and two siblings.
Her father works on a mine near Welkom, about 200km to the north.

Lindiwe persevered despite not having all the necessary text books. She even had to write a letter to her mother’s employer to ask money to buy text books which the school could not provide.

Provincial education MEC Papi Kganare gave principal Lehlohonolo Sempe full credit for turning the once dysfunctional school around.

Kganare intervened around the end of 1999, attempting to halt Seemahale’s accelerating demise. Gangsterism was rife and discipline and morale extremely low. Parental support was almost non-existent.

The MEC endured much criticism for suspending and transferring a substantial number of the school’s teachers. The then principal chose early retirement and Sempe took over in January 2000.

The matric class of 2003 was by then in grade 9.

“I had to start from scratch,” Sempe, a physical science teacher as well, said on Tuesday.

“The school was in pieces and I had to reassemble everything.”

He learnt with time that it was “no child’s play” to turn a school around.

Sempe started calling parents to school when their children had to be disciplined, involving them in the process. He asked advice from principals of well-performing schools and subsequently introduced extra classes for the matrics on Saturdays and during each of the year’s school holidays.

Sempe himself was one of the teachers giving the extra classes, teaching 26 of the matriculants physical science.

He managed to ensure attendance of the extra classes by calling regular parents’ meetings to explain their necessity. Today Sempe is satisfied with the fruits of his hard work. He is determined to improve even further and make Seemahale one of the province’s top schools.

For this he needs support, not necessarily financially, he says, but in the form of equipment and books.

“We have a library building and a laboratory, but they are somewhat empty,” he explains.

He believes that teamwork—between parents, teachers and pupils—brought on their success.

In general, he sees a low morale among teachers as one of the biggest impediments to proper education in South Africa.

“When teachers are motivated, results follow,” he says.

When asked about his pupils’ reaction to the improvements, Sempe tells of this year’s matric farewell.

“Some of the matrics even cried when they said goodbye to me.” ‒ Sapa

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