In 2013, the GADRA Matric School ranked only 20th on the Rhodes University Feeder Schools list. GADRA Matric School achieved the milestone of becoming Rhodes University’s biggest feeder school in 2015, with 50 students from the Class of 2015 registering at Rhodes in 2016. By 2019, the School became Rhodes University’s single biggest producer of graduates. In 2021, a record of over 50 GADRA alumni graduated from Rhodes in a single graduation ceremony (28 - 30 April 2021). GADRA now produces considerably more Rhodes graduates than any other school, public or private. This triumph came with dedicated and strategic focus on the part of GADRA Education management, staff, and students. What makes the most recent milestone especially significant is that it was achieved DESPITE the massive academic challenges associated with Covid-lockdown of 2020.
How did GMS Achieve this?
The GADRA Matric School was founded in 1994. For the first twenty years of its existence, it was a successful all-purpose ‘2nd chance’ school. It assisted a wide range of students, in all manner of academic situations, to upgrade their results. However, about a decade ago GADRA increasingly asked a fundamentally important question: how are the upgraded results actually benefitting the students?
In order to answer the question, the organisation undertook research into state of the South African labour market. This investigation pointed to the following key facts:
- There is a clear relationship between educational and employability. The higher a person’s level of education, the more employable the person is.
- The labour market values a degree higher than a diploma, and a diploma higher than a higher certificate.
- The value of a degree varies according to the quality and reputation of the university that awards it.
Based on these findings, the organisation deliberately sought to reposition for school and change its character from being an all-purpose 2nd chance school to a top-end bridging institution. Specifically, it sought to enable a much bigger proportion of its students perform well enough to gain meaningful access to the premier university in the Eastern Cape, namely Rhodes University, for bachelor degree study. In order to enable this transformation, the organisation implemented the following strategies:
- More careful selection. GADRA’s analysis of student results indicated that the majority of the students who obtained bachelor passes at GMS were those who started the year in reasonable close proximity to this standard. This is hardly a surprise given that GMS educates young adults rather than young children in their formative stages. This finding resulted in GMS adopting a more careful and considered selection policy. Specifically, the organisation designed a system to measure ‘proximity to university entrance’ and used this to select those applicants with the best statistical chance of upgrading to the level required to gain university entrance.
- Enrichment programmes. GADRA recognised that student access to Rhodes would only be meaningful if the beneficiaries had the necessary academic skills to cope with the demands and standards of tertiary study. Thus it put enrichment programmes in place, above and beyond subject teaching. Two of the most impactful of these programmes are the advanced writing skills course and computer literacy training.
- Building a partnership with Rhodes. GADRA is situated in Makhanda, which is also home to Rhodes University. The organisation thus sought to strengthen its relations with the university in general and specific divisions and entities of the university in particular. For example, it was essential for the Student Bureau to have confidence in GMS’s internal June examination results and for it to understand the technicalities of the upgrading process. The strength of the resultant partnership is reflected in the fact that the new Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, has appointed GADRA to head up his university initiative to revitalise public schooling in Grahamstown.
- The Bridging Programme. In 2016 Dr Mabizela invited GADRA to conceptualise a Bridging Programme. GADRA responded enthusiastically, designing a programme that enables deserving students to register for one or two University credits while simultaneously improving their National Senior Certificate at GMS. The programme was successfully piloted in 2017 and has since grown and diversified. In the pilot year, eight GMS students registered for Psychology 1, whilst this year as many as 44 GMS students are registered across four faculties doing Cell Biology, Theory of Finance, Psychology, Politics, or isiXhosa credits in Semester 1.
Personal Stories of Triumph
There are many GMS success stories. Two of these are presented below. Linda Rulumeni from the GMS Class of 2015 who graduated with a BSc Honours degree in 2021, said the following about GMS in a recent Facebook post, “Thank you so much GADRA Matric School. It is all because of that one year we spent with you...Your staff is amazing and gave us hope when we really needed it the most. GADRA restored our confidence and made us believe that we can make it, and guess what WE DID! Ndiyabulela, enkosi and God bless everyone involved in making GADRA Education what it is.”
Anelisa is a prime example of triumph over difficult personal circumstances. Her success was given impetus by her year at the GADRA Matric School in 2015. An orphan from a poor rural village in Keiskammahoek, she moved to Grahamstown on the invitation of Dr Westaway and his wife, Lise, (pictured right with Anelisa). She attended the GADRA Matric School and improved her NSC results dramatically, enabling her to submit a successful application to Rhodes, where she registered in 2016 and moved into Residence. In 2020 she graduated with a Bachelor of Social Sciences, with distinctions in both her major subjects. This earned her a coveted place on the Dean’s List. In 2021 she obtained her Honours degree, again obtaining a distinction. On the basis of her outstanding achievements, she was awarded Academic Colours.
Nolutho Ncipa (GMS 2014) came to GMS from Nathaniel Nyaluza High School in Grahamstown with a Diploma-level pass. She attained a Bachelor-level pass and 37.7 Rhodes University points in 2014 and was accepted for Rhodes in 2015. She went on to graduate in 2018 (Nolutho is pictured right front with other GMS 2018 graduates) with a Bachelor Social Science and Honours in Organisation Psychology in 2019. She was accepted into an HR Internship programme in Cape Town the following year and was starting a second internship in Grahamstown in 2021 but has now returned to work at the GADRA Matric School as Administrator.