'No phones, no church and no chores for matrics' says school principal with a 100% matric pass rate

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Mihlali Makhalima is the principal at Ulwazi High School in Mdantsane.
Mihlali Makhalima is the principal at Ulwazi High School in Mdantsane.

Switch off.

That is the advice to matriculants from an Eastern Cape principal whose school has received a 100% matric pass rate for the ninth year in a row.

Mihlali Makhalima is the principal at Ulwazi High School in NU 2 Mdantsane. He is one of the youngest principals in that province and he runs a tight ship.

His school has also produced a provincial top achiever from the class of 2022.

“Even before we get to the books, it starts with respect, discipline and cleanliness. There needs to be a distinction between a school and other places like churches, hospitals or pubs. All learners need to abide by the school code of conduct, with no deviation.

“Then when we get to the core business, which is teaching and learning, we do not compromise at all. Then we move on to the staff. We have 37 teachers who are young and energetic in order to keep up with the great task at hand.”

Matrics are at school from 7am to 6pm, every day of the week, with no exception - Monday to Monday. There are no public holidays, except Christmas. They do not even have a matric dance at Ulwazi, they only have a valedictory service, five days before the final exams.

“We also run a camp ahead of exams to make sure all the learners are ready. We do all subjects and not just focus on maths and science.”

They are a no-fee school and ahead of these camps in June, September and November, parents are asked to pay R1 000 per child for food because they sleep there.

Read more | Dear matrics, failing or scraping through is not the end – teachers’ encouraging words to class of 2022

“For the June and December exams, the matrics are incubated for six weeks, preparing. Then for two weeks ahead of the prelims. There is a timetable for eating, sleeping and studying. We get parents to volunteer to sleep at the school with the children so that the staff can go home to their families at midnight, to return the next morning.”

Mihlali says all the parents are on board because they see how beneficial this programme is for their kids.

“Yes, it’s a winning formular, but it is not a miracle,” he says.

“The tough programme I am telling you about now is only for matrics, but we groom and prepare the learners from grade 8 for them to know what is coming in grade 12, because grade 12 is the end product.

“Ours is not the best-looking school in town. Our focus is results that come. The reality is that kids have a lot of energy and if it is not channelled properly, we will not get the desired outcome. We teach, assess and report back.”

The reports they give to parents in the matric year, he says, are not inclusive of assignments and projects.

“We give the marks with assignments to the department. We do not want to include them for the learners to see because they are boosted by the assignments and projects. We give them the raw score marks. The ones that are from the brain to the script. Those are the important results because they tell us exactly what that learner knows and what they do not know.

“When we spend that much time with the learners, we are able to identify where their weak points are and we focus on improving them.”

He says matrics need to switch off.

“Grade 12 is a year to switch off everything. No church, we can pray at school and stay away from cellphones. Let me tell you, cellphones are the biggest devil. They are a huge distraction and that why our school policy is that we do not even want to see phones at school or they will be confiscated.

“When you are in matric suddenly everything seems accessible from boys and girls to cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, you name it. That is why matriculants should stay away from outside influences. We don’t want matrics to have any excuses so even the parents know that they should not give them any chores at home, no cooking or cleaning or anything that can take away their time from their books. This then also trains them for varsity.”

Mahlali has been with Ulwazi since 2008 when was 23 years old. He started as a maths teacher. The matric pass rate at the time was 28%. By 2015, he was the HOD for maths and science and had implemented so many changes that the pass rate was 91% in 2012.

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“From 2013, we started getting a pass rate of 100% and we have maintained that since then. The 226 learners who make up the class of 2023 know that this year marks 10 years of our great streak and they need to keep it going.”

He left in 2019 for another school where he was made deputy principal but Ulwazi called him back after just seven months away. He then became deputy principal at Ulwazi.

In 2020, the then principal died of Covid-19 and Mihlali was made acting principal until he was appointed in the role permanently in 2022.

As strict as it may be, this is what he believes sets them apart from other schools.

“There is healthy competition even among the teachers because they do not want to be outdone. This is great because everyone is doing their best, it has become a culture at the school. The teachers are all on board and even though the official results are out, we are confident in our results.”

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