Behind the 88% matric pass rate at the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science, and Technology are stories of young people who have fought tough odds to make a better life for themselves and their families.
The academy is in the heart of the Constantia Valley, on the doorstep of some of the most desirable addresses in Cape Town, but many of its pupils have come from some of province’s poorest areas.
The Western Cape Education Department established the school in 2004, on the site of an old boys’ reformatory. The idea, says deputy principal Gayaat Omar, was to take disadvantaged pupils who showed promise in maths, information technology and science and give them a quality education.
Many of these pupils came from rural areas, the children of seasonal farmworkers whose first language was Afrikaans, and they stayed in the school’s hostel.
Originally the school only took pupils from Grade 10 to 12, but for the past four years, it has offered Grades 8 to 12 and is fully English with pupils coming from surrounding feeder schools, including Kirstenhof, Bergvliet and Plumstead.
“The academy allows us to mould citizens for the 4th industrial revolution and cater to the needs of an ever-changing world,” says principal Angie Naidu.
“Through great teaching and learning, we want our learners at the academy, once they matriculate, to take their rightful place in South Africa and thus steer our country into a direction that supports the greater good for all citizens.”
Two of the school’s top-five pupils this year overcame tough personal circumstances to get to where they are, says Ms Naidu.
Jared Petersen – who with an 84.29% aggregate shared the top spot with fellow pupil Naomi Petersen – grew up moving and changing schools almost every two years due to his parents’ separation. And his father, an appliance technician was unemployed for a while.
Jared, who will be studying information systems and computer science at UCT, lives in Heideveld with his father and his stepmother who is unemployed but has a diploma in marketing.
He joined the academy in 2019, when he was in Grade 10, after leaving De Kuilen High School, because he wanted to attend a school that catered more towards science and technology.
“I had to write a mathematics entrance test to qualify for admission,” he says. “I believe the Cape Academy to be an excellent school, and it is by far the best that I’ve attended.”
He says the number of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, programmes offered by the academy sets it apart from other schools.
Jared dreams of getting into the software-development field, and he urges other matriculants to never lose sight of their goals.
“I’ve been fascinated by computers from a young age and have developed a passion for coding, which I often do during my spare time. I believe that there will most definitely be many available jobs in this field, which will only continue to grow as the world becomes more and more dependent on technology.”
Keegan Lawrence lives with seven people in Seawinds. His mother is a fitting-room assistant for a large clothing chain and his stepfather is a gardener. His brother is doing a B.Com and his younger sister is still in primary school. Keegan’s aunt died recently and her daughter is living with his family and attending Steenberg Primary.
Keegan attended Steenberg’s Floreat Primary School and joined the academy in Grade 8 after being awarded a Leisure Education Trust bursary that his principal applied for, but he says he found the workload more than he could manage.
“I didn’t know as much as my fellow peers, but I worked with what I had. I studied and practised until I could solve the problems on my own. And it worked for me. For any theory subject, I would read a piece and write a summary about it. For maths, I would practise every example taught by the teacher and make my own ones. And I came 18th in Grade 8.”
Everything else took off from there and his schoolwork became more manageable, he says. In Grade 10 and 11, he came second, and he placed third in his final year.
Keegan scored an 83% aggregate and earned distinctions for maths, physical science, Afrikaans, accounting, life orientation and information technology. He plans to study actuarial science at UCT and says he will always cherish his time at the academy.
His advice to the matrics of 2022 is to apply for bursaries as soon as possible and to give the year ahead their very best. “It’s your last, it’s best to make it count because it doesn’t matter what happened last year, everything depends on what you do this year.”
He adds: “Enjoy the year. Matric is going to be the hardest but the best. Make your parents proud of who you are. Make yourself proud of who you know you can be. You got this.”