Opinion -Can you see any notable patterns in the following list of KZN schools that have impressively achieved a 100% matric pass rate over the last five years?
Here they are in alphabetical order: Al-Falaah College, Danville Park Girls’ High, Durban Girls’ High, Eden College Durban, Ihsaan Girls’ College, Inkamana High, Islamic College Newcastle, Kwathintwa School for the Deaf, Maritzburg Muslim School for Girls, Menzi High, Mount Edgecombe Private, Racing and Equestrian Academy, Siraatul Haq Islamic School, Star College, St Catherine’s High (for girls), Westville Girls’ High and Ukhahlamba High.
These are schools that wrote the Department of Basic Education matric exam, not private schools that wrote the IEB matric, where most schools have a 100% rate over five years.
The first thing I noticed was the number of schools for girls on the list (six obvious ones out of 17). No schools for boys.The second pattern that struck me was the number of Muslim schools (five obvious ones out of 17).I wondered if some of the other schools were distinctly Christian schools? The third pattern I noticed was the four black schools.We know our apartheid past has had a terrible impact on the quality of historically black schools, so these schools must have a special story to tell.The fourth pattern I wondered over, but did not have enough information on, was how many of these schools were private and what the fees were.I also wondered how many matrics there were in each of these schools, as it would be far more impressive to have a class cohort of 200 attaining a 100% matric pass rate than a class of five.
As I researched each of the schools, some of the patterns above intensified, and some explanations for their successes started to emerge.
I started with the Muslim schools. (In future columns we can explore the other patterns.)Given that only around 2% of the South African population practise Islam, it is deeply impressive to have so many Muslim schools on the list above.Al-Falaah College is the first Islamically based independent school in Durban, on a beautiful, modern, well-equipped campus in Springfield.It has separate classes for boys and girls, with around 75 matric graduates a year.Islamic studies and Arabic are integrated into the curriculum.Students have the option to memorise the Qur’an and graduate as a Hafiz or Hafiza.Ihsaan Girls’ College is also an independent school, in Chatsworth, with around 40 graduates a year.It was founded 18 years ago and has a proud history of 100% matric pass rate since 2005.Islamic College Newcastle is a shariah-compliant, independent, combined school established in 1994, with fees of around R30000 a year and around 10 matric graduates a year.In conversation with the principal, he attributed their success to an extended teaching programme for matrics, 100% attendance, highly disciplined learners, committed teachers, and strong community support.Because of the small numbers, boys and girls are taught together in the same classroom with a partition between them.
Maritzburg Muslim School for Girls is a small independent high school with a strong academic and conservative culture that uses a lot of highly respected and experienced retired teachers (or those who have taken the package) with around 20 matric graduates a year.Siraatul Haq Islamic School and Madrasah is an independent school in Escourt with 21 matric graduates, who got 66 distinctions between them.The Madrasah was established in 1985, but many learners struggled to combine public school with madrasah after school, so it was decided to integrate Islamic and academic education into one centre, allowing learners more time and a more consolidated Islamic educational experience.The school is open to the community, with a strong donor tradition that subsidises poor and disadvantaged learners.
With this first quick sweep gathering information completed, I spent some time chatting to people who had some insight into these schools, and three distinct explanations for these schools successes emerged.First, the integration of Islamic and academic education; secondly, the community support for education; and thirdly, the donation culture that enabled these schools to be established and to flourish.The integration of the madrasah curriculum with an academic curriculum has many advantages.Purely on a practical level, it cuts out the logistical and time-wasting effort to continuously make arrangements for a learner to go to a public school for the school day, and then to a madrasah for the late afternoon.This is exhausting for the learners and results in all sorts of issues to do with after-school activities, social and friendship conflicts, transport expenses and time wastage.
Independent Muslim schools that integrate Islamic and academic education result in the learner being able to participate in sports and extramurals, and develop friendship circles and activities not circumvented by the learner having to leave one school to attend madrasah after school.Perceived drop in standards and discipline of public schools can be avoided by the strong traditional ethos and respect culture of a Muslim school.Accounts from education colleagues who have been to Muslim schools, reveal a culture of discipline and respect, with high performance expected from both teachers and learners.The schools have strong missions and visions and celebrate academic achievement.Because boys and girls are taught separately, there is more freedom to participate and contribute without gendered concerns playing a role.When it comes to community support for education, it is important to keep in mind that there is an overlap between a strong broad Indian community respect for, and commitment to, education, and a Muslim commitment to learning.
There are strong Christian and Hindu commitments to education, but we can ask the question: Why do we not see Hindu schools on this list, given that Hindus make up around 40% of the Indian population?This is a complex issue and the question is put crudely, but I would be interested to know what people in the community think and feel the answers are.Many of the Muslim schools had seed funding and also receive strong donor support, due in part to Zakat and Sadaqa.Both types of charity result in extra support for poor learners, better facilities for the school, and more funding for the operation of the school as a whole.It is deeply satisfying for a Muslim to contribute to a Muslim school that is protecting and extending the faith.
I am sure there are other reasons why so many Muslim schools are on the list of 17 schools achieving a 100% pass rate over the last five years, and I would be interested in what these are, as I would be in why there are so many girl schools on the list, what Menzi, Inkamana and Ukhahlamba High are doing right, and what Star College and Eden College are doing.We need to understand and support educational excellence in South Africa and KZN. This is one place to start.
* Professor Wayne Hugo teaches education at UKZN.