Mphoentle Piliso has defied the odds. Despite growing up without parents and being diagnosed with asthma, she has become one of the top learners in the country. Piliso (17), a learner at Cofimvaba Senior Secondary School in Butterworth, Eastern Cape, was raised by her grandmother, a pensioner, along with her seven siblings. She is the second-born in the family.Piliso has her sights set on studying medicine and specialising in cardiology. Her mother died of a heart-related illness when Piliso was a toddler. Mandla Makupula, MEC for education in the Eastern Cape, announced on Friday that the province recorded a 65% pass rate for 2017 – marking a 5.7% increase from the 59.3% pass rate in 2016.Speaking to City Press shortly after the province’s results were announced, Piliso said she was stunned to be one of the country’s top achievers. “I am overwhelmed. I did not expect it, but here I am. Hard works pays, after all,” she said, adding that she had been provisionally accepted to study medicine at the University of Cape Town.“It will make me sleep better at night knowing that I have made someone’s life a little better or knowing that I saved a life,” she said.Piliso paid tribute to her grandmother and teachers, saying her achievement was thanks to their constant support over the years. “I would love to build a house for my grandmother or upgrade the existing one to a double storey. I also want to take her overseas because it has always been her dream. "I want to see it come true, just as she has made my dreams a reality,” she said.In June last year, Piliso suffered from panic attacks at exam time and had to write some subjects from her hospital bed. She was later diagnosed with asthma.“At first my panic attacks were because of anxiety over the exams, but then it turned out I had asthma,” she said."She always went the extra mile"Piliso was one of 25 learners from around the country to be honoured by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga for their achievements, during the official announcement of the 2017 matric results in Johannesburg on Thursday.Naniswa Sabata, the principal of Cofimvaba Senior Secondary School, shed tears of joy as she praised Piliso.“If she had not been disciplined and dedicated to her studies, I would not be counted as one of the best principals. She is very bright.“She always went the extra mile, even when she was not well. I personally took her to hospital because I knew what potential she had. She is a good example, especially to children who are troublesome,” said Sabata. Makupula attributed the province’s improved results, which made the Eastern Cape the second most improved province after KwaZulu-Natal, to a three-year turnaround strategy, introduced in 2016. Despite the 5.7% increase, the province is still ranked bottom of the Class of 2017. Makupula said that, of the 67 648 learners who wrote matric, 43 981 passed the National Senior Certificate exams. The number of learners who achieved bachelor passes increased from 19% in 2016 to 23% in 2017.Two districts performed above 70%: Nelson Mandela Bay achieved a 72.6% pass and Sarah Baartman District, 71.8%. For the first time in years, none of the 12 districts in the province performed below 50%.At least 10 districts out of the 12 performed above 60%. “This is no small achievement,” said Makupula. “The department, guided by the provincial government, developed an educational system transformation plan which we adopted in 2016,” he said, adding that it had turned the tide during this, its second year of implementation.He said the future looked bright and that the province would no longer be the laughing stock of the country as it would soon challenge the country’s top provinces in terms of education results.