It’s a tough 16/7 slog but ‘Merc C’ matrics are top of the class

Placing the most promising matric learners in one class and naming it the “C” class, after a luxury Mercedes Benz model, may sound odd but it works for Dendron Secondary.

Everyone at the rural Limpopo school knows that all 63 scholars will bag a bachelor’s pass at the end of this year, making them eligible for admission to university. This pass rate has been consistent since 2004.

Teachers, learners and the principal, Moloko Matsapola, attribute the school’s success to the mandatory five hours of extra lessons for grade 11 and 12 scholars, which happen seven days a week from 6pm to 11pm.

This year, a total of 467 pupils are attending the evening classes.

Besides the extra classes, between 3.15pm and 4.30pm daily, with the exception of Fridays, all learners at the school are given extra tutoring in maths. Then there are extra classes for the grade 10s on Saturdays.

Matsapola, the brains behind the compulsory extra classes, is proud of the effect that the intervention is having on his school’s academic performance.

Last year, matriculant Karabo Moremi (18) was declared the country’s top maths achiever of all quintile three schools. Quintile one, two and three schools are classified as poor or disadvantaged schools, while quintile four and five are regarded as so-called wealthy schools.

Matsapola said parents initially criticised the system because of the long hours and concerns over their children’s safety at night.

“But there is absolute support from them now and they are very happy. Their children are also kept away from trouble because they are at school from 7am until 11pm. When they knock off at 11pm, they are tired and go to sleep, and return at 7am the next day.”

If a parent refused to give their child permission to attend the evening classes, the child would not face any repercussions for not attending. “I do not think it will ever happen because the children themselves want the classes. They are afraid they will be left behind if they do not attend.”

Matsapola said there was huge demand from parents to enrol their children in grade eight: “We get applications in excess of 700 for 300 available places, including some from Gauteng and Mpumalanga.”

But he did agree that the long hours of study, seven days a week, could result in burn-out, saying some of the learners did feel fatigued. “We send children home if we recognise that they are tired and exhausted. We also encourage them to inform us when they are tired.”

Said Matsapola: “We want to give our children the best possible opportunity in the sense that when they do well academically, they open themselves up for opportunities of further study in the higher education institutions.”

He said his scholars were getting places at top universities such as the University of the Witwatersrand and Stellenbosch University. “Wits takes our grade 10 to 12 learners for its targeted talent programme.”

He said the school had produced 11 medical doctors since 2004.

“One of the interesting things is that whenever a former learner buys a new car, he or she must bring it to school to show off what they’ve achieved. It is an inspiration to the other pupils,” he said.

Recently, a former learner brought her new Mini Cooper to school and asked him to take it for a drive.

Grade 12 learners Boitumelo Ngoepe (17) and Concilia Baloyi (18) agreed that the extra classes were beneficial.

Asked if he thought that the learners were being pushed too hard, Ngoepe said: “I think it’s necessary for us to be pushed very hard so that we can perform very well. If they leave us alone, we are not going to perform up to standard.”

He believed he would not have achieved five As and two Bs in grade 11 if there had been no extra classes.

Ngoepe is planning to study actuarial science at the University of Cape Town next year.

Baloyi, who has set her sights on studying medicine at the University of Cape Town next year, described the five hours of extra classes as “totally normal”. She also bagged five As and two Bs in grade 11 last year.

“They are beneficial. I have extra time to focus on the areas I did not understand during the day. We also have time to interact with other learners because sometimes I understand my colleagues better than the teacher.”

The motivation techniques employed by Vivian Makhubele (47), the deputy principal of Moses Mnisi High in Mpumalanga, may be seen as a bit unorthodox.

She slept on a sponge mattress on the floor of the school hall with her 158 matrics for the five-week duration of their exams last year.

“My aim is to walk the learner into the exam room in each and every subject and to give them support.”

Makhubele, who has a 16-year-old son at the same school, spent last Friday and Saturday night at the school with a group of learners wanting to do extra work in maths.

“I am passionate about teaching and I want my learners to make something of their lives and become somebody one day.”

Commenting on the five-hour-a-day extra classes being offered at Dendron Secondary, Johannesburg educational psychologist Cara Blackie said: “Yes, they are putting a lot of pressure on them, but they are trying to support them in a way that could allow certain kids who might have fallen behind an opportunity to really excel and perform much better.”

“Getting your matric is vital. So, it is at least giving them the opportunity to hopefully perform better.”

But she cautioned that it might be exhausting for some scholars who had been at school all day to still attend extra classes.

“Your concentration can only be sustained for a certain amount of time. I don’t know if they have breaks in between. I still think it’s quite a lot of time and that some kids may become fatigued. Some are really not evening learners,” she said.

But, added Blackie, extra classes were sometimes necessary because of teachers’ huge workloads and the timeframes in which they had to complete the syllabus.

“I would never recommend for a child to work that long. But you’ll note that certain kids who do have a lot of work sometimes end up working that late. So, having supervised homework would probably be more beneficial than them sitting at home and procrastinating and being on their phones.”

Isaac Sebola, chairperson of the school’s governing body, said they were “honoured to have such a dedicated team” that was “going the extra mile without expecting any form of payment”.

His governing body was working closely with the local police, who patrolled the area when learners left the school after 11pm.

Sebola said the governing body also “aggressively identified” weak learners after monitoring their monthly test results, and gave them motivational talks.

“We even visit their homes to check on their backgrounds and see how we can support their parents.”

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Prega Govender
Prega Govender is the Mail & Guardians education editor. He was a journalist at the Sunday Times for almost 20 years before joining the M&G in May 2016. He has written extensively on education issues pertaining to both the basic and higher education sectors.

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