Reaching and teaching the stars
Tucked away in one of the oldest parts of Johannesburg is Parktown High School for Girls. The school has a special ambiance, and it maintains a healthy balance of tradition, discipline and a progressive approach to education.
Parktown Girls was founded in 1923, prior to which it was a co-ed school. From the start, Parktown High School for Girls has provided young women a chance to express themselves in academics, sports and cultural activities and encourages learners to “reach for the stars”. Today it has around 1 100 girls enrolled.
This is obviously paying dividends, as the class of 2016 celebrated another 100% pass rate, with 96% of the 226 learners obtaining a bachelor’s degree pass. The school also achieved 489 distinctions.
Parktown High School for Girls describes its vision as forging confident and courageous young women, ready and willing to meet every challenge on the way to achieving their dreams. It is a place of possibilities — a school for empowered leading and learning. Although it is a public school, it provides a world-class education to learners from all kinds of backgrounds, which is invaluable for producing the leaders of tomorrow.
“Having qualified, committed teachers in the classrooms is a key factor to the success of any school,” says headmistress Tracey Megom. “Teaching needs to be seen as a profession, and teachers need to be treated more like professionals, which is essential for motivating them.
“The [basic] education department needs to look at and deal with the real issues in education, instead of spending a lot of money on superficial, surface-based problems. The problems in education are deep and we need to start looking at solving the problems from grade one rather than starting in high school. In this way the solutions will move through the system and be more permanent. People need to understand how important government schools are to the future of our country and we all need to work together to find sustainable, long-term solutions.
“Our teachers are committed to ... the young women they teach and they are at school and in their classrooms, unless ill, on time every day. We believe in continuous, professional development and are always looking for opportunities to expose the teachers to the latest educational research so that they are at the top of their game. We expect our teachers to lead by example.
“We also have incredibly high expectations of all our learners through the philosophy that everyone can achieve, and we work hard with those learners who are struggling. We place emphasis on quality passes, which sets the bar very high for everyone — learners, parents, teachers and the whole community work very hard to obtain our goal of 100% bachelor degree passes.”
Megom did not want to mention anay particular teachers as standing out, saying that it would be unfair as they are all dedicated and committed to the subjects they teach.
“Our matric results are exceptional in all our subjects and this is due to the hard work and dedication of all our teachers from grade eight to grade 12. I should allude to mathematics and physical science as, in terms of the national statistics in these subjects, across the grades, our results are incredible.
“As stated for the teachers, I would not want to single out individual learners as all our learners work incredibly hard and they all achieve exceptional results, despite many having to overcome some very difficult circumstances.
“I am always humbled by how hard they work and how well they do. Many of our learners also go on to be exceptionally successful in tertiary education and in their chosen careers. As a school we are very proud to be producing young women of exceptional quality who are willing and able to take up positions, including leadership positions, in business, politics, medicine and accounting, to mention but a few.”
Asked how Parktown High School for Girls overcomes the challenges that government schools are facing daily, Megom says the school has a very supportive school governing body. Its parents, for the most part, support the school through school fee payments, even if in some cases it is on a voluntary basis.
“This enables us to apply the legislated exemption policy which facilitates access, but at this stage, has not compromised on the quality of education we are able to offer. We do a lot of fundraising, mainly through our parents’ association, and we have employed a member of staff to source additional funding opportunities for the school to supplement the income provided by the basic education department. We also rely on old girls to make donations to their alma mater.”
Megom says that the school’s success attracts good teachers and that this does help to overcome the problem of skills shortages.
“We have good policies and procedures in place to ensure that finances are carefully managed as well as for the collection of textbooks, to ensure that money is not being wasted.”