The Rivoni School for the Blind in Elim, Limpopo, is fast becoming an institution which is in in high demand for its matric achievements.
On the first day of the new school year on Wednesday, principal Connie Mabaso said the boarding institution even attracted pupils from other provinces.
“We now admit learners all year round. What can you do if a child suddenly becomes visually impaired in the middle of the year? That child has to continue with education,” Mabaso said.
The institution has been the cream of Limpopo in the special needs school category with its consistent 100% pass rate in past years.
A week ago, it again captured attention when Tiyani Mbedzhani was one of the top 30 matriculants nationally.
But a visit to the school humbles one’s heart, given the infrastructure and conditions the visually impaired pupils have to endure.
The Rivoni Society for the Blind, which was established some 40 years ago but closed because of a lack of funding, left the infrastructure for the school.
At its peak, the society helped the adult visually impaired people to acquire life skills.
Last year, parents staged a protest to demand the improvement of infrastructure and conditions at the school. They were criticised for taking pupils out of classes.
All 10 of the 2019 matric pupils at the school passed last year, with three obtaining diplomas and the rest bachelor’s passes with some distinctions in critical subjects, such as mathematics, economics and home language.
Mabaso told News24 that their secret lay in what she described as “Team Rivoni”.
“We are so humbled. The educators take time to assist the learners. We profile each learner because we look at each learner as an individual. They may be all visually impaired but their needs are different.
“Some of the educators are ‘comrades’. They belong to trade unions. But they have never abandoned the learners [to demand] salary increases. We are a unit for the sake of these learners,” Mabaso said.
However, she expressed her concerns about the infrastructure.
The classrooms are “mobile classes” that have been standing there for years. The pupils’ hostels are an eyesore.
“It’s difficult for learners to study at the hostels because they are congested. They are forced to go to classes at night to study, but thanks to the security guards and the ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers’ that keep them safe at night,” Mabaso said.
Rivoni School for the Blind has achieved, for years, what education analysts call “good performance against all odds”.
“Normal” public schools that achieved a 0% pass rate increased from three in 2018 to nine in 2019.
It may well be against this background that Limpopo Premier Stan Mathabatha made a bold commitment during a visit on Wednesday, promising to return with a contractor to start with infrastructure development at the school in April this year.
Addressing the staff, pupils, traditional leaders and school governing body, Mathabatha acknowledged that the school was performing under “unassuming infrastructure”.
“You are producing students who receive national awards. You have competed among the best, not only those that are disabled but those who are abled, and you excelled.
“It is against this background that we felt humbled to reward excellence. This is not just practice, it is excellence,” said Mathabatha, who also personally donated braille notebooks.
“I have gone to schools with the best of infrastructure of the highest order, but they are unable to produce 40% (of the matric pass rate), and they are not disabled,” Mathabatha said.
He instructed the chief of staff, Mohale Nchabeleng, to ensure his promise was fulfilled.
‘We are also like other kids’
School governing body chairperson Elias Mathiane told the premier that, through the years, government officials have sent them from pillar to post when they sought assistance.
“We have been to government offices seeking help, but the answers we got were very nasty. It’s very heartwarming to hear what the premier has announced,” he said.
The announcement filtered through to the pupils who, at the acceptance of the message, danced to the song Haka Matorikisi.
The mood was aptly captured by the now Grade 12 pupil Leboang Mahakwe, from Lebowakgomo – more than 250km from the school: “We are also like other kids who can achieve everything that anybody wants to achieve. There is nothing about us without us.”
To loud applause and with tears running down the cheeks of some in the audience, she said: “Fellow learners, let us focus on what we have to do. Education is the best.”