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GRADE GUNS

A 100% pass after just two matric cohorts — meet the E Cape’s Bulungula super-achievers

A 100% pass after just two matric cohorts — meet the E Cape’s Bulungula super-achievers
Bulungula College, the first secondary school in the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area of the Eastern Cape, opened in 2019. (Photo: Supplied / Bulungula Incubator)

Established in 2019, Bulungula College was the first high school in the Eastern Cape’s Xhora Mouth Administrative Area to offer access to grades 10, 11 and 12 for local pupils. Just four years later, its second matric cohort achieved a 100% pass rate.

Bulungula College’s matric class of 2022 achieved a 100% pass rate, a 36.4% increase from the 63.6% they registered in 2021. Staff and pupils were “overwhelmed” by the achievement — the product of years of hard work.

The school was established in the rural Xhora Mouth Administrative Area, Elliotdale, in 2019. It was the first high school in Xhora Mouth to offer grades 10 to 12, before which Grade 9 was the highest level of education accessible locally, according to Rejane Woodroffe, director of the Bulungula Incubator, the nonprofit behind the school.

Bulungula College 100% pass

Bulungula College pupils celebrate a 100% matric pass rate on 20 January 2023. (Photo: Supplied / Bulungula Incubator)

“We took a survey, and over the last 15 years there was an average of six people who completed matric in this region… before Bulungula College was built,” she said.

“The reason we built Bulungula College was because… we still had a situation in this area — which was part of the old Bantu education system in the old days — where schools finished in Grade 9 and there was no access to high school grades 10, 11 and 12.”

Xhora Mouth is in Mbhashe Municipality, an area on the Wild Coast that falls in the Amathole District. According to census data, only 17.9% of people in the municipality have completed matric or higher, while 50.4% have completed Grade 9 or higher.

The matric class of 2022 at Bulungula College achieved a 100% pass rate. (Photo: Supplied / Bulungula Incubator)

Before the college was built, those in Xhora Mouth wishing to complete matric needed to travel to a high school about 25km away, according to Woodroffe. However, only a few could do this, since it was expensive for families and challenging for children.

In 2021, when Bulungula College’s first cohort of matrics graduated, 28 passed out of a class of 44, said principal Mthandwa Sincuba.

It was the most pupils to date from the local community who had graduated in a single year, according to a Bulungula Incubator blog post from 21 January 2022.

Pupils in class at Bulungula College, the first high school in the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area of the Eastern Cape. (Photo: Supplied / Bulungula Incubator)

The class of 2022 had 36 pupils, all of whom achieved a matric pass — the first time in the history of Elliotdale that a school achieved a 100% matric pass rate. 

Of the 36 matriculants, 29 did not have a parent or caregiver who graduated from high school, while 13 had a parent or caregiver who was unable to read or write, according to Bulungula College.

‘Whatever I put my mind to…’

Achumile Siphofana, one of the top-achievers in class of 2022, obtained six distinctions, which she described as “amazing”.

“I did not believe when I saw my statement that I got so many distinctions. I know I worked hard during the year and this just proved to me that whatever I put my mind to, whatever I say I want to achieve, I can do it,” she told Maverick Citizen.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Extra classes help Stellenbosch no-fee school to boost its matric pass rate

Siphofana has received a bursary to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree at the University of Johannesburg, after which she aims to return to Xhora Mouth to work with Bulungula College.


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“I want to work with my teachers and see how incredible and amazing they are, and I want to help achieve… more 100% [pass rates] and more good grades for all the other kids that will be coming through,” she said.

Bulungula College was ranked first among the schools in the Amathole District for its 2022 matric results, according to Woodroffe.

Bulungula College teachers and Bulungula Incubator management in a strategic planning workshop, facilitated by the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa, in January 2022. (Photo: Supplied / Bulungula Incubator)

Changing lives

The Bulungula Incubator — a grant-funded organisation — began working in the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area in the early 2000s, said Woodroffe. The area was largely cut off from functional services, with minimal access to healthcare, infrastructure and proper education.

Over the past two decades, the nonprofit has worked to build up local services and infrastructure in areas such as health, education and water. It does work at an early childhood development, preschool and primary school level.

The incubator established Bulungula College as a zero-fee school with the intention of increasing access to quality education in the historically poor area.

The school has a feeding scheme, providing breakfast and lunch to pupils, as well as a meal for those participating in afterschool programmes, according to Woodroffe. It also provides textbooks and school bags.

“Parents participate in the school. In fact, in all our projects it’s always been a principle of ours — at our preschools, parents will come and make toys and cushions and do workshops — and it’s the same at Bulungula College,” she said. “Where we run holiday camps, parents supervise and cook at school. It’s important for them to be involved.”

Regarding the factors that contributed to the 100% matric pass rate, Sincuba emphasised that teachers were not only active in the classroom, but also involved in extracurricular activities, counselling and motivation for the pupils.

“The thing that sets Bulungula College apart is that it’s a really caring and supportive environment, and then it looks very holistically at the education provided,” said Woodroffe.

Ikho Dyomfana, the top achiever in the Bulungula College matric class of 2022, takes part in a yoga session at the college’s ‘final push matric camp’. (Photo: Supplied / Bulungula Incubator)

“The health programme of the Bulungula Incubator supports the college. So, for example, any family planning that learners need. We’ve got a pregnancy policy that’s very supportive, that includes learners, that works with them… and for the families.

Read in Daily Maverick: “Home run — Kraaifontein school completely outperforms its matric result target

“We don’t exclude learners on the basis of ability. So, we work with teaching at the right level. For example, we use a maths study programme that looks at the level the learners are at and works in a supportive way, so that the learners don’t lose confidence.”

The college does not receive any funding from the Department of Basic Education. However, given the performance of the 2022 matric class, Woodroffe is optimistic about forming a cooperative partnership with the department in the near future.

Sincuba’s goals for Bulungula College include improving the quality of matric passes and increasing school enrolment.

“At the moment, our enrolment is at 50%, so it is also my wish that we work and improve the enrolment; that we use all the facilities that we have in the school and [ensure] each learner in the village gets the best advantage through the education system,” he said. DM/MC

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  • Rob Martin says:

    Thanks to all the mountain bikers who do the annual Imana Wild Ride on the Wild Coast who have set up a Trust to support such projects. Imana Foods have been incredible partners as well.

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