Hundreds of families moving to the Southern Cape each year have not only discovered the quality lifestyle they had been searching for, but have been pleasantly surprised to find some of the country’s best public and private schools on their doorstep. Significant growth in the local population in recent years has necessitated new schools and for established institutions to make room, and board, for more learners.

WORDS Louise F Venter PHOTOGRAPHS Provided

Debbie Symes, marketing manager at Glenwood House independent school in George, says she gets at least five calls a day from parents who want to relocate to the Garden Route. “While lifestyle is their main motivation, the fact that they then also find good schools here, often to their surprise, encourages them further,” says Debbie.

Her sentiments are confirmed by Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesman Paddy Attwell, who says the Western Cape in general has experienced a considerable migration of learners from other provinces in recent years, with an increase of more than 12 600 learners in the Eden and Central Karoo education district since 2011. Close to 126 000 registered learners attend 210 public and 28 independent schools in the district.

Aware that local public schools are bursting at the seams, Paddy says the WCED is building
new schools, expanding existing schools and adding mobile classrooms where learner
enrolment has seen rapid growth. “The department has spent R183.5 million on new schools in Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, and has plans for another 10 projects, worth about R676 million, over the next six years, including more schools for Mossel Bay, Hessequa and Oudtshoorn. The plans may change to meet shifting needs and available budget,” he says.

The region’s educational landscape mirrors a diverse society and a range of education models to include alternative curriculum schools such as Montessori and Waldorf, several independent Christian schools, Curro schools as well as Cambridge International accredited and Independent Examinations Board (IEB) schools.

In addition to Eden’s main stream public schools, the Oakdale Agricultural High School
in Riversdale, and technical-focused schools PW Botha College in George and Langenhoven Gymnasium in Oudtshoorn, offer specialisation in addition to standard academic programmes.

Special needs are catered for at Up With Downs, Carpe Diem and Van Kervel schools, where the focus is largely skills-based.

According to WCED statistics, the matric pass rate for Eden/ Central Karoo has increased from 75.8% in 2010 to 85.2% in 2015. Many schools in the Southern Cape have an equally good university exemption and Bachelor pass rate, and feature prominently at the WCED academic excellence awards each year.

To add to the attraction, most Southern Cape schools offer boarding. Traditionally intended to host the children of neighbouring towns and surrounding farming communities, schools with boarding facilities now not only have long waiting lists from the region but, as safe and quality educational providers, have become desirable to parents from much further afield, including all parts of South Africa, Africa and Europe. Admissions policies to public schools have become a complicated debate as pressure from desperate parents and government are placed on schools every day to accommodate applicants.

The education department advises parents to apply early at schools of their choice and to contact the department for assistance should they not be able to secure admission to a local public school.

Meanwhile, a growing number of private schools in the region offer good quality alternatives. Even though local private schools are generally more affordable than private schooling in other parts of the country, tuition fees are still too steep for many families. Ironically, often parents who are unable to afford private schools and whose children were unable to secure a place at a local school, are forced to look outside the region, in detriment to their original reasons for moving here. A lack of vacancy at schools is most often cited as the reason why children can’t secure a place at public schools. Private schools, which are usually looking to increase their numbers, address this dilemma by offering bursaries to deserving candidates.

Outeniqua High School in George is arguably the most prominent public school serving the local Afrikaans community. With about 1630 pupils already enrolled, the school has almost reached maximum capacity. The school receives more than 450 applications for Grade 8 each year, but can only accommodate 320.

Headmaster Christo Vorster says pupils are mostly from the region and preference is given to them, but, because it has hostels and a choice of 23 subjects for seniors – the largest variety in the region – Outeniqua is also popular with parents from further afield. “At the start of the second term this year we had so many new applicants, it almost felt like the beginning of a new school year.” The school has an excellent academic track record, rating among the top 20 schools in the province in the WCED academic excellence awards in 2013. “Outeniqua matrics often achieve top marks in several subjects, including priority subjects mathematics and science.

Christo says children must also be taught to make a positive contribution to the world in future. “We live in a society where people are mostly standing on the sidelines. We need to teach children to give, care, and have empathy, which is why community outreach initiatives and environmental awareness in schools are so important.”

Previously a mostly Afrikaans-speaking region, English-speaking learners in the Southern Cape have been served by dual medium public schools for many years. As more English-speaking families moved to the region, the demand for English medium schools and more English classes in the dual medium schools increased significantly. The need is compounded by Afrikaans home language parents choosing to have their children educated in the more international lingua franca, English.

In addition to being the only English medium public high school between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, York High School in George is among the top 25 schools in the Western Cape and was listed as one of the top 100 schools in South Africa by the Sunday Times in 2009. The school received a WCED academic excellence award in 2015 and was acknowledged by Stellenbosch University as a top 100 feeder school for delivering exceptional academic talent for admission into undergraduate programmes for five consecutive years.

As a designated WCED maths and science school, York uses a qualifying maths test as a significant part of its admissions process for all Grade 8 applicants. York headmaster Francois Moll says the reason behind the test is because “the intention is that, whoever is admitted to York in Grade 8, will be choosing math for Matric”.

Pure mathematics, which is much more technical and abstract than mathematical literacy (an independent subject that uses mathematical concepts and applies them to everyday situations to teach basic numeracy life skills), is currently compulsory for Grade 10 pupils at York as part of an ongoing experiment as a WCED maths and science focus school.

York allows for only about 190 successful applicants out of about 300, based mostly on the results of the qualifying maths exam and school capacity.

In part, the focus on maths and science is based on reports such as the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) The Future of Jobs report, published in January this year, which suggests a fourth industrial revolution that will bring together fields such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, nanotechnology, 3D printing and genomics. Jobs that are anticipated to grow are still mostly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

However, about 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist.

Francois says research skills, the ability to evaluate, judge and consequently synthesise information will be crucial to future success. “Back in my day we used to fight about two books in the library. Now thousands of websites can be accessed with the click of a button. The challenge is how to make a sensible judgement of information and use it.”

Understanding, using and teaching technology in schools is vital, but with an emphasis on skills. “The reality is technology is moving faster than we can teach it. Familiarity with technology and the ability to adapt to it are probably more critical than the actual technology we are learning, because five years after a child has left school, technology will have changed vastly,” says Francois.

Glenwood House in George, an IEB accredited school with a 100 percent matric pass rate since its inception, was one of the first schools in the Southern Cape to make it compulsory for pupils from Grade 5 onwards to use tablets in classrooms, using the Information Technology School Innovation (ITSI) platform. “It’s a textbook on steroids, used by teachers to create a stimulating and more interactive classroom environment for pupils who, in contrast to most of our older generation, are ‘digital natives’. It does not replace the teacher, but serves as a tool to make learning more relevant and exciting,” says Glenwood headmaster Dennis Symes.

Dennis says the increased global emphasis on technology, and the resultant impact it has had on children’s lives, makes it much more crucial to have a holistic approach to education.

“This philosophy has been embraced by Southern Cape schools like Glenwood House by offering opportunities to enable children to develop all-round skills and abilities, catering for the body, mind, social and emotional development and well-being.”

While Glenwood was established in 2006 so locals wanting a traditional English private education for their children did not have to send them to boarding school in other areas, about 65% of the school’s learners are now from outside George and are boarding.

Established in Knysna in 1992, Oakhill was the first independent school in the Garden Route. The school was recently listed in the top 1% of the most innovative, child-centred, forward-looking high schools in the country by South African educator and educational blogger, Sean Hampton-Cole.

Headmaster Shane Kidwell believes its continued success is based on the forward-thinking vision of the school’s founding parents, who wanted to move away from the ‘industrial era’ type thinking to a more individualised approach. “While Hampton-Cole’s criteria may be subjective,
it is indicative of the kinds of skills young men and women will need to navigate the future positively. Skills like critical thinking, the ability to collaborate, research skills, communication skills, analytical thinking, problem solving, innovating, resilience and creativity – but more importantly the emotional intelligence and the self-awareness to understand the intricacies of the complex society and world we are living in – will be vital,” says Shane.

Oakhill had had a 100% pass rate since inception as well as a 94% university exemption with its best ever matric results in 2015.

Oakhill, which is currently looking at much-needed boarding facilities, says boarding will become even more crucial in future as the Southern Cape needs to diversify and extend its economic boundaries.

Education in the Southern Cape has received another significant boost with the addition of the fully accredited Cambridge International schools group The British Academy (TBA) branching out to Knysna at the beginning of this year (2016) – bringing world class education with a strong emphasis on academic excellence and critical thinking to Eden.

Already distinguishing itself through the quality of its academic programme as evidenced in numerous ‘highest mark in South Africa’ awards, the TBA also aims to enhance skills like critical thinking.

TBA Knysna principal, Dr Christa Boshoff, says the academy has a child-centered approach. “It is our goal to empower students to achieve success in their academic careers and we believe in going the extra mile to help each student flourish and develop to his or her full potential. We have complete confidence in the Cambridge curriculum that we offer and our team of teachers is extremely competent to help each student master this academic programme.”

TBA Knysna will be offering boarding facilities from 2017.

 

Simon Crane is headmaster at Woodridge College, a highly regarded IEB school situated
on a large farm estate near Jeffrey’s Bay, providing for a strong focus on the outdoors. The oldest independent school on the borders of the Southern Cape, it draws many children from Plettenberg Bay and Tsitsikamma.

Crane says pupils today are different from those even a decade ago and standing still in education is a waste of time.

“As educators we need to constantly be looking at and checking our systems to ensure we not only keep current, but stay ahead. Certain aspects of education should never be discarded while others must be moved away from. We need to grow children academically, in sport and culture but we also need to imbue them with sound values, and encourage wholesome behaviour and interests that will allow pupils to grow in self-confidence. Lack of self-confidence is the biggest inhibitor to success,” says Simon.

Ron Boon, founder and chairman of Kenako Golf Academy and Rundle College, a Cambridge International accredited school in George, says it’s not just about turning out academic achievers. “People like Steve Jobs who founded the Apple computers empire but never finished his degree, and movie director Steven Spielberg, who was twice rejected at the California School of Film, still went on to achieve great things. Education should be about creating great young people who will have the right foundation to be successful in their future life and become leaders,” he says.

In its third year of existence, Rundle College produced the top Cambridge International students in South Africa in two subjects in AS Levels, which is the international equivalent to the South African Grade 12 and is recognised by the Matriculation Board (HESA) for exemption purposes.

Ron says when he founded Kenako Golf Academy, a separate brand from Rundle College, the dream was to provide a young person not only with the opportunity to be the next Tiger Woods but also to become the global CEO of Coca-Cola. “Therefore, in education learning should be interactive, integrated and blended.”