AS Grade 12 learners return to their desks for arguably the most important few months of their school careers, the Eastern Cape Department of Education has committed to equipping the learners with the necessary tools in an attempt to improve the province’s 2017 matric pass rate. This after the province was ranked the worst performing last year attaining 63.3% – an increase of 1.1% from 62.2% in 2015.Speaking to PE Express, the spokesperson for the Eastern Cape Department of Education, Malibongwe Mtima, confirmed that more than 500 winter school centres have been established across the province as means to ensure the pass rate doesn’t fall below last year’s level.However, he added that that alone is not enough if parents and guardians don’t play their role at home. “We urge parents to meet us halfway by encouraging their children to study at home and offer assistance where possible. “It becomes a fruitless exercise if the educators teach the children at school then when they get home parents don’t get involved.” Mtima said the centres were well resourced with old examination papers and study guides.“This will enable the learners to familiarise themselves with answering questions, bettering their preparation for the preliminary and final examinations,” Mtima explained.He explained that previously there had been a challenge of learners not being able to partake in the winter schools due to financial problems.“We have resolved that issue by ensuring that the learners attending the classes are provided with money for food and transport,” Mtima said.Khulile Zondani, a Grade 12 pupil from Ithembelihle Comprehensive School, said the winter classes have really made a huge difference.“I am now more confident and better prepared for the upcoming exams. “The teachers at the centre are very patient and thorough,” Zondani said. Parent and teacher Sibongiseni Nqonji, however, argued that much work needs to be done in order to be able to get parents involved. “The greatest challenge faced is that in most cases there is a gap in knowledge between parents and the schooling system. “This is not a problem that can be resolved overnight.“In some cases, the parents are uneducated and it, therefore, becomes difficult for them to be able to assist in the studying process,” she explained. Four winter schools have been established in the metro. They were held at the Military Base, Daniel Pienaar Technical High School, Dower College and Strelitzia High School.