Neither guns or gangs could stop the matric pupils of Oval High School in Mitchell’s Plain from getting close to a 100% pass rate.
“I know how many difficulties you had to face,” said principal Na-aim Kassiem with awe as he addressed the class of 2015 who were sitting at rickety old desks in the exam hall.
They had survived gang shootings, a gang blockade at the school’s entrance and worsening unemployment in their Beacon Valley community. But none of this was enough to keep them from a matric pass.
With the incoming class of 2016 matrics also present, the pupils screamed and whooped when Kassiem announced their pass rate of 95.1% – up from the 86% in 2014.
“Once again you did us proud,” he said, and challenged the incoming Grade 12’s to do even better.
The school is a Focus School of Excellence for engineering and technical subjects and while Science is a compulsory subject, it does not have a laboratory. This means pupils had to “imagine the sound and smell of an experiment” described in textbooks, said Kassiem.
And that isn’t the only problem.
The school is located on disputed gang turf and, in June, two pupils walking to school were shot and injured. The year before, another two were shot – one is now paralysed.
“It was harrowing,” said Kassiem.
In 2015, gangs blocked the entrance to the school, refusing to let anybody in until charges against their friends for the shootings were dropped. The gangs eventually backed off without the charges being dropped and pupils were allowed to continue with their schooling.
Most pupils at the school live with single mothers and absent fathers and with increasing unemployment, families struggle to put food on the table in an area where almost half of the residents are unemployed.
“I know what it is like,” said Kassiem, of his own humble beginnings.
“I know the taste of wet brown bread for supper.”
The mothers who do work, leave on the early buses for long shifts in retail. Their children go to school alone and walk home alone.
Their mothers get home more than 12 hours later, exhausted, so there is little opportunity for quality time with their children or to help with homework.
This means it is up to the teachers to provide all their academic support.
Kassiem said he is very grateful to the teachers for putting in the extra hours and said all the honours should go to them.
Meanwhile, pupils queued to speak to Kassiem to express their gratitude once they had collected their results.
One of the parents, Michka Jones said she was really proud of her son, Kashief.
The boy’s father Yusuf was on life support in hospital when he wrote his exams. But he managed to stay focused.
“You can’t be put down by what life throws at you,” said the aspiring structural engineer, before being swept away by pupils still shrieking in the corridors. News24