Dudumayo Senior Secondary school has managed to improve its matric (grade 12) pass rate from 53.3% in 2015 to 83.89% in 2016, a stunning feat for a school located in South Africa’s rural Eastern Cape. Axium Education’s Gené McAravey spoke to Dudumayo principal Nkosivumile Kwezi about what strategies the school has been employing to achieve such a drastic turnaround.
Situated within the rural Eastern Cape, more than an hour’s drive from the closest urban area and approximately two hour’s drive away from former president Nelson Mandela’s rural home of Qunu, lies Dudumayo Senior Secondary School. Dudumayo, serving approximately 1400 learners from Grades 10 to 12, faces all the typical challenges plaguing rural government schools. These obstacles include limited school infrastructure and resources, teachers who commute long distances daily, students living in households surviving on government grants and massive school overcrowding. Despite these, the school’s leadership and learners are determined to rise above the typically dark predictions for rural learner achievement. Now, with a more than 30% increase in Dudumayo’s matric pass rate from 2015 to 2016, it looks like these ambitions are becoming a reality.
Mr Nkosivumile Kwezi, who was appointed to his post at Dudumayo in February of 2016, is serving both as the school’s principal and as its Science teacher. As a former rural learner himself from the Bizana community in the Eastern Cape, he is passionate about helping rural learners overcome the odds to achieve success. When asked why he chose to work at Dudumayo, he had the following to say:
“So before I came here to Dudumayo I always had that passion [for rural education]. Because when I was listening to people, especially people who are working in rural areas they always said to me ‘Look, the reason why you are producing good results is because you are in town. Go to rural areas, you will see the reality.’”
Mr Kwezi’s previous experience includes a stint as the vice-principal of Zingisa Comprehensive High School as well as a teaching post at St John’s College, both situated in urban Mthatha.
“And I said, ‘You are lying! You are lying. Learners who normally excel in town are learners who are from deep rural areas,’” he explains. “I wanted to show them that now, even if the school is just under a tree, if there is a teacher, a teacher is the best resource. That school can perform very well.”
Since starting at Dudumayo, Mr Kwezi has implemented a number of programs to assist his learners. These include revision sessions in the mornings starting before 6am and running until 7.30am as well as supervised self-study in the evenings from 6pm until 10pm for Matric learners, Mondays through Thursdays. There are also compulsory, hour-long study sessions for grades ten and eleven after lessons have finished for the day. In addition, the staff hold classes on Saturdays on a rotating basis to make sure they have adequate time to cover the syllabus thoroughly.
When asked how the learners cope with such a strenuous academic schedule, Mr Kwezi smiles and responds, “You know, just have a visit, maybe in the morning, you will see them. I find them here in the morning. They are so motivated, hayi. They come running like anything…saying Nobakunzima. We will win. Even if it’s difficult, we will win…Really! The spirit that is in our children, it’s quite amazing.”
Mr Kwezi’s own attitude towards teaching has also played a role in this regard. He believes that encouraging and motivating learners is key, both inside and outside the classroom. He reports that he often begins his interactions with the learners by sharing a few inspiring words with them.
“Just have two or three words. ‘Hey good people, remember, hard work drives you to be a better person tomorrow. There is nothing that you can get without working hard. Hard work, the mix of determination and perseverance, that’s what brings about success. You need to share just one motivational word with them and then you get to the business. You teach them, you give them examples, give them class activities, you give them homework.”
After that, he explains, it’s about spending time with each learner, nurturing a strong relationship with them and keeping their spirits up. “Talk to them on a continuous basis, that ‘Look, you’ll do it,’” he says. “Even if a learner gets two marks or three marks in a test say, ‘You know, the reason why you are getting two or three clearly indicates that you have intelligence of doing well in this, so make sure that you triple these three marks in the next test.’ Even the very slow learner…will work hard now, not to disappoint you, you see? So that’s the system that I’ve been using.”
Asked how he finds time to engage with learners on top of his administrative duties as principal and his full teaching load, he shrugs and says simply, “If you are a teacher, ma’am, you know, you sacrifice. You forfeit something in order to get something.”
“I normally arrive here at quarter-to- six in the morning and I will be leaving at ten. And [tomorrow] morning I’ll be here at quarter-to- six. That’s a lot of sacrifice,” he explains. In the early mornings Mr Kwezi is joined by dedicated fellow staff members; Deputy Principals Ms Mdaka and Mr Ludidi as well as Head of Department Mr Hlanganyana. Mr Kwezi, like the rest of his staff, resides in Mthatha, an hour away. He makes the long drive on roads peppered with potholes and roaming livestock, in often rainy and misty conditions, twice daily.
“So you’ll find that now, for example, today I’m going to complete the organic chemistry. I’m going to give them a test, I’m going to mark that test, I’m going to give it back to them before I even go home. Can you see that, by then, all other educators are at home, you know, doing all their things, ma’am? You need to make time. If you can’t find time you need to make time by yourself. You just sacrifice, just for the benefit of an African child… Because I know that I’m a principal and it ends there but then I cannot destroy the future of the little children…I have to work [harder] so that at least they become what they want. I mustn’t be a stumbling block to their progress.”
Despite Mr Kwezi’s commitment and the efforts of his students, the challenges they face remain daunting. He describes visiting the cottages of his learners to collect them when they are late, only to find them sleeping on the floor with scarcely a blanket to cover them.
“This area is really, really, really overwhelmed by poverty, I’m telling you…We do not focus onto that because definitely, psychologically, it will traumatise us, but we just pretend as if things are normal and we normally assist some of the learners. You will find that some learners they do not have parents…Some of them, we really adopted them as educators. For example, even myself, there are learners that I am currently responsible for the payment of fees, you know, uniform, etc.”
He shakes his head sadly “There are so many, you know, but then we normally communicate with [the department of] social development…We assist the with food parcels and all that. But you could see that this is not sustainable for a very long time.”
Mr Kwezi’s greatest ambition for Dudumayo, beyond achieving a 100% pass rate in this year’s matric examinations, is to build a hostel for the school. “If we can have a hostel…everybody will eat the same food, everybody will stay in the same place, everybody will sleep in the same bed,” he explains.
The excitement in his voice is apparent as he expands on his vision. “If we can get a hostel with teacher’s cottage, if you want to sleep here, you can stay here…you are not rushing anywhere. You wake up in the morning with learners, ‘Come on, it’s time, good people, let us go back to school,’ and everybody runs to school,” he sketches out, laughter in his voice.
Because of large commuting distances, many learners in their matric year move into government funded RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) housing and cottages located near the school. This comes with its own set of dangers, however. Theft, house breaking and even students who get raped are tragically common occurrences, explains Mr Kwezi.
“If we have a hostel here, you can’t talk about that anymore. You will never ever talk about those things because the school will be fenced, there will be security, there will be matrons, there will be everybody. So learners will be safe.”
Mr Kwezi’s other ambitions include increasing the number of Bachelors passes as well as the number of students with distinctions. The school, who’s classes for Matrics began on the 3 rd of January, appears to be well on its way to achieving these goals, along with a 100% pass rate. We at Axium Education wish the learners and staff all the best for the rest of this academic year. Under the capable leadership of Mr Kwezi, and if hard work has anything to do it, we are expecting promising results from Dudumayo’s Grade 12 class of 2017!