Faith at the Heart of SA Top 5 School
A Catholic school in rural KwaZulu-Natal ranks among South Africa’s Top 5 schools. ERIN CARELSE found out more about Inkamana High School.
Situated in the heart of Zululand, Inkamana High School in Vryheid has in successive years placed in the national Top 5 schools.
According to matric results based on pass rates, exemptions, averages and distinctions, in 2018 Inkamana was the fourth-best-performing high school in the country; the previous year, the school was ranked number two. Only one other Catholic school placed in the national Top 10 in that time: Springfield Convent in Wynberg, Cape Town.
Inkamana has also recorded a 100% matric pass rate every year since 1969; for half a century.
Almost all schools in the national top rankings are either urban private schools or highly-priced elite academies. By comparison with those schools, the fees for attending Inkamana High are modest.
The school was started in 1923 as an intermediate school by Benedictine missionaries from Germany and associated with their Vryheid abbey.
Today student enrolment at Inkamana High School stands at around 200, with one class for each grade. The school also has boarding facilities.
Inkamana aims to educate learners to live as a community founded on mutual respect and responsibility. It is expected that learners look at their education not only as a means of personal and academic advancement but also as a responsibility to work for the good of others — a cornerstone of the Catholic ethos.
“As a Benedictine school community, we strive to live the mottos of the school: ‘Ausculta’ (to listen with the ear of the heart, and ‘Ora et Labora’ (to pray and work),” said Isabel Steenkamp, who has taught at the school since 1982 and has served as its principal for 21 years.
“Ausculta fili” are the opening words of the Rule of St Benedict. The words mean “Listen, my son”, urging the faithful to service and acknowledging the sanctity of life.
With the motto “Ora et Labora”, St Benedict stressed the indivisible complementarity of prayer and work.
The Christian principles of the Catholic faith are at the centre in the school. Its mission statement undertakes, among other things, that “we pray with and for one another; we listen to God and to each other; we treat others as we would wish to be treated; we love one another as Christ loved us”.
The school believes “in educating the whole person—body, mind and spirit”
Principal Ms Steenkamp said Inkamana is fortunate to have a team of people, including the parents, teachers, and hostel staff, who believe that the education of their children is very important, and that careful planning is needed to cover all aspects of a holistic education.
“Education is a process and not an easy one, but every positive input has a positive output,” she said.
“The basic needs for excellent education should all be in place, including punctuality, well-prepared lessons, utilising educational time, regular homework and tests, regular study, and the opportunity for students to learn from their mistakes and practise until they understand,” Ms Steenkamp said.
“We also encourage students to have goals and dreams, and to have a plan of action to make them a reality,” she explained, adding, “Alumni are encouraged to visit the school and to share their stories of challenges and success.”
Skills development plays a decisive role in excellent education.
“Students need the skills to study effectively, to think critically, and to listen with comprehension, to plan time well, to take decisions, to do presentations and use language effectively in their studies. Computer literacy is essential to prepare students for life after school,” Ms Steenkamp said.
She further noted that students have to take responsibility for their own education by attending class and understanding what’s being taught in class.
“Doing their homework will help them better understand the work they are doing, and making use of support from the subject teacher and classmates when needed is also to their benefit,” Ms Steenkamp said.
Inkamana does not offer extra lessons or holiday classes because the educational time provided during the term is fully utilised. However, she said, it is the development of personal skills that will contribute most to the success of a student.
‘Everybody is a leader’
“We believe that everybody is a leader and has the responsibility to lead themselves in daily choices and decisions,” the principal noted.
“Inkamana creates as many student leadership opportunities as possible and expects from the students that they also be assertive. Value-based education is important and it is important to expect the students to maintain good manners at all times,” she said.
“It is an ongoing process and parents and teachers must never give up on setting good examples and expecting excellent behaviour.”
Ms Steenkamp feels that interpersonal skills should develop with maturity and that students have to learn to function well in a team. At Inkamana class groups are asked to organise some activities for the students like fun days. She emphasised that basic skills such as friendliness, honesty, and compassion are also important and should be part of every person, family, and community.
“Resilience, the ability to bounce back from failure and challenges is difficult for students, but surely a skill that must be enhanced all the time,” Ms Steenkamp pointed out.
“The self-confidence of students develops through basic things like expecting them to stand up and answer in full sentences in classes,” she said.
The principal added that life is not easy for so many students and they need support and encouragement.
“Education is no easy task, for teachers, parents or students,” she said. “At Inkamana we believe that through leadership and skills development, young people are empowered. The aim is always to create positive peer pressure in the school community for the good of all.”