By Dr Ashley Westaway, GADRA Education Manager
The schools of Makhanda lie at the heart of the city’s educational success and should be recognised as the bedrock of the upcoming Makhanda Education Summit. There is a marvellous diversity to the local schooling sector… it is much more a rich tapestry than a motley crew. Just like the Springboks triumphed in the World Cup because of diversity and its positive spin-offs (such as inclusivity, commitment and creativity), so too is the marvellous diversity of the local schooling sector is arguably the stand-out feature of the city.
There are many ways to understand and describe this diversity. A common way to do this is to divide schools into primary and high schools and to further disaggregate in terms of private/ independent and public schools. The latter can be further sub-divided into fee-paying and fee-exempt schools.
The public schooling sector in Makhanda is by far the biggest, serving most young people in the city. This is indeed how it should be because good quality schooling should be accessible to the full citizenry. Once a schooling system is privatized, it necessarily becomes the preserve of the wealthy, which is socially unjust (at least according to my morality).
South Africa is a complicated country, with a highly compromised history. Therefore, it is not surprising that the public sector of schooling is unusually configured in that it is partially privatized. The fee-paying component of public schooling is relatively small (compared to the fee-exempt component) yet it is crucial to the sustainability and well-being of public schooling as a whole. In the case of Makhanda, we are talking here about the primary schools of Victoria Primary and Oatlands, the combined schools of Graeme College and PJ Olivier, and the high school that is Victoria Girls. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the importance of these schools. All of them, without exception, punch well above their weight! They offer quality education, fantastic extramural opportunities, and multicultural integration. To attend one of these schools is to experience the Springbok maxim that ‘diversity is strength’. We need to emphasise that when we say that these schools punch above their weight, what we are saying is that they achieve remarkable things with constrained resources. Whilst the public sometimes assumes these schools to be well-resourced, in fact they are not. In reality, they are underfunded by government and yet still decide to keep their fees affordable and reasonable.
There are 14 no-fee primary schools and 7 no-fee high schools, as follows:
- Primary: Archie Mbolekwa; CM Vellem; DD Siwisa; Fikizolo; George Dickerson; Good Shepherd; Grahamstown Primary; Makana; Ntaba Maria; NV Cewu; Samuel Ntlebi; Samuel Ntsiko; St Mary’s RC; Tantyi Lower
- High: Andrew Moyake; Khutliso Daniels; Mary Waters; Nombulelo; Nathaniel Nyaluza; Ntsika; TEM Mrwetyana
Obviously, there is considerable variation across these schools, in relation to size, performance, language and several other metrics. But what is generally true is that the no-fee sector delivers a considerably higher quality of education today than it did a decade ago. Some of the evidence that makes my claim compelling is as follows:
- Recently undertaken research indicated that 32% of Grade 4 learners attending Quintile 1-4 schools in Makhanda are able to ‘Read for Meaning’. This is considerably above the overall national rate of 19%; to be precise, it is 68% higher than the national competency rate. Moreover, the national rate includes the fee-paying sector.
- The drop-out rate in the city has plummeted over the past five years; otherwise stated, the retention rate in Makhanda has improved significantly. That is, many more of our young people are now staying in school until they write their final NSC examinations at the end of Grade 12. More than anything, the improved retention rate has been achieved because of better literacy competence, which reflects the improved quality of foundation and intermediate phase schooling in the city.
- All of the key metrics pertaining to Makhanda public sector matric results (including pass rates and Bachelor achievement) have improved strongly over the past decade. The pass rate is up about 20 percentage points and the numbers of Bachelors produced annually has soared in recent year years. This improvement has been attained because of a surge in the performance of no-fee schools. The fee-paying sector has maintained its very high standards, despite mounting pressures, as described above; it has long been contributing as much as it possibly could be. The only way for the city as a whole to improve was for the no-fee sector to step up, and this is exactly what has happened.
There is currently a very healthy competition for prestige and accolades amongst the no-fee schools. One sees this at primary school level in processes such as the isiXhosa Spelling Bee competition hosted annual by the Education Faculty at Rhodes, and at high school level when NSC results are released in January each year. The overall point that needs to be emphasised here is that each and every school in the no-fee sector is making an effort to contribute to the renaissance of schooling underway in our city.
The independent schooling sector is as diverse as the public sector, and here too, diversity is strength. We have both elite private schools that recruit learner from all over Africa as well as numerous low-fee independent schools that cater for locals. DSG, St Andrews and Kingswood are world-class schools that deliver outstanding opportunities to their learners, across the board. Because they are private institutions their excellent offerings come with a hefty price tag, way beyond of the vast majority of Makhanda families. To their credit however, in recent years these schools have associated themselves more closely with the city and are all engaged in efforts to uplift the overall standard of local schooling. In this way, the enviable resources of DSG, St Andrews and Kingswood are being deployed for the public good.
The city has numerous successful low-fee independent schools, namely SDA, Holy Cross, Capstone, the GADRA Matric School (GMS), and the ADC 2nd Chance School. The first three, underpinned by religious values, are well-established primary schools. It can be noted that Holy Cross and SDA performed particularly well in the above-mentioned Grade 4 literacy assessment. Together, GMS and the ADC school offer the city’s youth the opportunity to upgrade their matric results, in order to access tertiary study or other pathways.
This overview of the schooling landscape in Makhanda would be incomplete without recognition of Amasango Career School and Kuyasa Special School, which both enable inclusive education. Ours is a city that goes the extra mile to take care of the full range of educational needs of our children and youth.
Is there any other small city in South Africa with a finer mosaic of schools than Makhanda? Our schools come in all shapes and sizes but are magnificently interconnected and unified by their common determination to offer quality education. Moreover, there is a growing sense of solidarity amongst the schools, wonderfully encapsulated in and illustrated by the Makhanda Principals’ Forum. Without our wonderfully diverse and effective schools, there would have been no basis for Professor Mabizela to convene an Education Summit. They have boosted the prospects of the city and all who live in it, and now we should stand together to support them to reach even greater heights.