Mbilwi Secondary School is one of the largest schools in the Limpopo, with 2 353 learners and 73 teachers. The school has been recognised as one of the best-performing schools in Limpopo for several years in a row, always delivering the most remarkable matric results. It’s an educational institution that has become synonymous with excellence in results, in student capabilities and in overall performance. So, what makes this school tick? What is it that makes this school shine when others still struggle?
“I attribute our success to teamwork, a willingness to go the extra mile, and having a strong foundation in maths and the sciences,” says Principal Cedric Lidzhade. “If you have these foundations and approach school with these attitudes, then you have the secret to success. We believe in the old saying ‘take care of the cents and the rands take care of themselves’ and the same applies to the foundations of mathematics and the sciences. We specialise in these subjects and we have the best teachers.”
The school has maintained its tradition of producing 100% matric pass rates for more than 10 years. It was established in 1979 with four contact subjects plus three languages: English, Tshivenda and Afrikaans. The school originally only serviced grades 11 and 12 but subsequently expanded to include grades eight to 10. It places a heavy emphasis on maths, life sciences, geography, and physical sciences and ensures that, through the use of the three different languages, students from different walks of life and home language are given the same opportunities.
“We have had students from the Free State, Johannesburg and even China,” says Lidzhade. “We really do work to ensure that we provide all children with an equal footing in the school. This is also reflected in our ethos of going the extra mile. Our learners come from different backgrounds, so we have to provide them with the education they deserve and the support they need to achieve the best possible results.”
Lidzhade points out that if you put in the minimum amount of work, you get minimum results. This underpins the way the teachers and students approach their studies. The school has classes on Saturdays for the grade nines that concentrate on the challenging subjects of mathematics and the sciences. They run from February to June and give learners the chance to embed their understanding before the exams. The classes then open for the grade eights from July until October, where they receive the same dedicated care and attention to building these foundations.
“We profile our learners throughout the year — we teach and we assess so that we can determine which students need support,” says Lidzhade. “They are then given the opportunity to participate in our late afternoon classes that focus on the tough subjects and let them really get to grips with the skills they need. We fundamentally believe that if you give children the basics, you give them excellence.”
The impressive staff complement of 73 is also crucial to the success of the school and its students. There is ongoing professional development for the teachers to ensure their skills remain up to date and there is a well-developed mentorship programme in place to ensure teachers learn as they teach.
“To ensure that the school maintains this level of quality, we have to provide mentoring,” says Lidzhade. “We put the younger teachers with a master teacher in their relevant subject so they work together to ensure that teaching is at optimum levels. There is a teacher in each language and in the contact subjects; our teachers specialise. Instead of one teacher covering all aspects of a subject, at our school we have a teacher focusing on each specific branch, such as chemistry or physics.”
The teachers also have a head of department (HoD) for each subject and they spend time discussing teaching methodologies, the children and how best to pursue the curriculum throughout the year. Some departments, such as maths and English, have two HoDs. Lidzhade also spends a significant amount of time teaching, as he believes that you can only see where the learners need support if you have your ear to the ground. It is a notable fact that every principal has been a teacher at the school.
As the interview draws to a close and Lidzhade finishes revealing the secret formula that drives Mbilwi Secondary School, one of the other teachers, Christina Tshubwana, walks in. When asked why she believes the school is so successful she replies, without prompting: “Because we go the extra mile to help our learners, and because of their hard work.”