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‘Discipline, empathy and collaboration’ — KZN school soars from pass rate of 55% to 97%

‘Discipline, empathy and collaboration’ — KZN school soars from pass rate of 55% to 97%
Dr Nembula High School principal Mduduzi Nzimande. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

Parents ululated and sang as they arrived to collect the results of this year’s Grade 12 students at Dr Nembula High School in Adams Mission, south of Durban.

Parents and teachers embraced one another joyfully and reflected on how far the school had come.

Principal Mduduzi Nzimande has only been at the school for four years, but his impact has been phenomenal, as he has led the school from a 55% matric pass rate in 2019 to 97% in 2024. The school was at one point only achieving a lowly 14%.

“Discipline, empathy and collaboration” are some of the words Nzimande uses when he describes what has created the gradual shift at the school.

“I listen to the teachers and make sure that they feel supported every step of the way. This [changes] how they teach and discipline the children,” he said.

The deputy principal, Thobile Gcwensa, echoed this, saying Nzimande is hands-on and an anchor. Gcwensa is also the geography teacher and is elated that her class achieved a 100% pass rate.

The teachers say the success is a result of an active pupil governing body that helps them to maintain discipline and looks out for pupils who have difficulties at home.

Gcwensa says the school partners with organisations such as Bobbi Bear and others that provide professional psychosocial support to pupils. The school has a feeding scheme, but pupils say the teachers use their own money to provide breakfast or dinner when the matric class does extra time.

Some of the school’s top-achieving pupils received six distinctions, including in challenging subjects such as mathematics, physics and accounting.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Matric class of 2023 beats the odds with record 82.9% pass rate — Angie Motshekga

Read more in Daily Maverick: Experts welcome matric pass rate increase but note 450,000 learners dropped out

Nhlakanipho Ngcobo (19), who obtained six distinctions in the science stream, says he wants to study to be a doctor. He is grateful for the support and recognition from his teachers and says he was sent to Kutlwanong, a centre that helps pupils who are great at mathematics and science. This helped him to achieve his distinctions.

Boniswa Mfeka (22) obtained a diploma in 2018 and returned because she didn’t qualify for her chosen career as an accountant or auditor. “I managed my time well and many of us spent Monday to Sunday here, in study groups and extra classes, and that helped.

“Matric has a lot of pressure, so having a hobby and kind teachers helped a lot,” said Mfeka.

Nzimande has built a reputation for helping to steer schools with low or less-than-­average performances. Gcwensa says she encouraged him to apply to work at the school, as she had seen his work at Siphephele Secondary School, near Durban. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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