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Ratanga Junction donates R150 000 to Sinenjongo High School

Bill Taylor, General Manager of Ratanga Junction, hands over the cheque to Sinenjongo principal, Mrs Malinga-Nopote. The group of students behind them are the pupils from Grade 12A.

As part of its extensive Corporate Social Investment programme, Ratanga Junction has donated R150 000 to Sinenjongo High School in Joe Slovo Park, Marconi Beam down the road from Century City.

This is the second year the theme park has made a donation of this size to the school with the funds going towards the salary of an additional science teacher at the school.

Ratanga’s parent company, Rabie Property Group, adopted Sinenjongo High School as the major beneficiary of its CSI programme four years ago. At the time, the prefabricated school, which has 750 learners and which serves an extremely impoverished community, had little or no resources and due to its abysmal matric pass rate and the high drop-out rate of learners, had been identified by the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) as one of the province’s 74 underperforming secondary schools in need of special attention. Teacher and learner absenteeism was high, discipline was poor and marks were pathetic. While Sinenjongo was receiving regular support and monitoring from the WCED including various school management courses as well as intensive curriculum courses, the WCED was limited in terms of its budget and could not alone provide the necessary financial and additional support required to turn this school around. For starters the school lacked a science laboratory with learners being taught solely out of a textbook and never having the chance to peer under a microscope or perform an experiment. It was not surprising therefore that only a handful, if any of the matric learners were passing science.

In stepped the Rabie Property Group, developers of Century City which had previously developed the Marconi Beam area in which Sinenjongo and Joe Slovo Park fall and they adopted Sinenjongo as the major beneficiary of its Corporate Social Investment programme. Rabie teamed up with Old Mutual, to fund the construction and fit-out of a Science laboratory at the school and the next year Rabie joined forces with Chevron to provide a second computer laboratory to enable all learners to develop computer skills. That was two years ago. And while the school’s facilities had improved, its pass rate had not with only 27% of matrics scraping through in 2008.

When the funders did an audit of the science equipment and saw that very little had been utilized, they realized that capital projects on their own would not make a sustainable difference. What was required was to improve the standard of education and teacher commitment within the school. Working closely with the school and the department, Rabie appointed a highly qualified teacher to oversee Grade 11 and 12 Maths and Science departments, with the task of not only teaching but also upskilling the other maths and science teachers and helping to instill a culture of excellence into the school.

This was a tough job as the Grade 11 and 12 learners simply lacked the basics. In January 2010 two additional maths and science teachers were employed by the sponsor and Ratanga Junction with a contribution from Investec to boost teacher resources for Grades 8 to 10 with the idea of growing these learners through the school.

This year a further two teachers were employed by Rabie to boost teaching resources in Grade 8 and 9 where there are around 50 learners per class making it extremely difficult for teachers to give individual attention to students. A further impediment to a successful turnaround had been identified some years back and that was the fact that learners were being taught in isiXhosa but examined in English in matric, a double jeopardy scenario. To address this, the sponsor employed the services of the SMILE (ST Mary’s Interactive Learning Experience) to improve the English proficiency of both teachers and learners.

In mid-2010, a new dynamic principal, Mrs Malinga-Nopote, was appointed providing the school with desperately needed leadership, drive and determinism. Slowly but surely the despair and despondency that had strangled Sinenjongo has disappeared and is being replaced by an energy, vitality and excitement among staff and learners which had previously been sorely lacking.

Together, the school, the department and the private sector sponsors are beginning to reap rewards. The 27% pass rate in 2008 was lifted to 44% in 2009 and in the 2010 trial exams, no less than 84% of the matrics passed! The 97,3% pass rate has exceeded the wildest hopes and is way ahead of the Department’s target of a 60% pass rate for 2010.

While great strides have been made, there is a long road of continued hard work ahead to ensure Sinenjongo’s metamorphoses into a Centre of Excellence. Improving the pass rate is one thing but they also need to curb the high dropout rate of learners (from 200 learners in grades 8 and 9, there were only 44 matriculants left last year) but this has improved to 88 for 2011 so the challenge is really on the school to maintain a high pass rate with double the number of learners!

It is still early days, but there’s no doubt Sinenjongo is becoming a beacon of hope on an otherwise desolate landscape and in time might well become a blueprint of what can be achieved if the public and private sectors work together to stem the crisis in education afflicting our country.

If you would like to get involved contact Maggie on Maggie@rabie.co.za.

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