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Discipline sets a record of achievement
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REASOMA HIGH SCHOOL, Soweto

AGAINST the odds sums up the achievements of Reasoma High School in Soweto. This sprawling school, which caters for more than 1 500 pupils - many of whom live in shack settlements - has few resources and is located in an environment in which the culture of learning and teaching has eroded over the years.

Only some parts of the school have electricity and the water supply works sporadically.

Yet, in the midst of these conditions, the school manages to be a haven of learning, maintaining high academic standards where other schools around it are not.

What, then, is the reason for its success? Feisty young principal Smileth Ntutela puts it down to: "the commitment of teachers and students and the kind of discipline we inculcate here.

"The kind of unity and co-operation, particularly between myself and the teachers, makes the load easy for me. We also have children who listen to us. They are not angels. They are like all other children. But they know that once they get inside the perimeters of this school they have to behave like civilised people.

"We don't have super kids here. We have the average Soweto child but we manage, with strict discipline, to get them to work," says Ntutela.

Most of the children who live in Protea North travel to formerly white schools in the suburbs of Johannesburg. Reasoma High's pupils come from what Ntutela refers to as "the real Soweto".

Two weeks ago, Ntutela had to deal with a 13-year-old pupil who had been repeatedly raped by her father. The school has also had to deal with drug dealers targeting pupils to sell for them.

English teacher Vusi Ndinisa says the odd "hooligan" who gets into the school is isolated and dealt with by guidance teachers.

"We can spot them. We concentrate on them. We'll call in the police if necessary, and they might end up in jail. We have a common vision here that really drives and motivates us. We stick to our motto: 'nothing less than our best.'

"The school also maintains good relations with Protea Police Station. A police forum has been set up at the school, and police patrol the grounds regularly."

Strict discipline is maintained at the school and pupils stay on the property until 2pm. Matric students stay until 4pm, studying for an extra two hours every day.

"Others say our school is like a prison because we are locked in until 4pm," says 18-year-old matriculant Johannah Mwaroganye. "But I don't see anything wrong with staying later. At the end of the day I have learnt something.

"Round here, many of the kids knock off at 11am. They go home for lunch and never come back."

The school gates are not locked, but leaving the school grounds early or arriving at school late is treated as a serious offence.

Ntutela says she often has to "discipline" children who come late "because they wait for their favourite taxis" - those playing the music they like and driven by good-looking taxi drivers.

She admits she still resorts to mild corporal punishment every now and then, although it has been banned.

No parent has objected, she says - they support it. "Maybe our children understand that we do it out of love."

Asked her opinion, Mwaroganye says: "It's okay for us. A child needs to be punished when he or she does something wrong. It's a question of discipline. It is the African way. We are used to it."

Mwaroganye says she is "very happy" to be at Reasoma.

"At many other schools the teachers don't have time for the students. Here, they look after us."

Reasoma High, which was started in 1990, continues to get far higher matric results than most of its neighbours.

Last year, the school had eight failures out of a total of 127 matric students and the year before, four. Children pay R50 a year and class sizes range from as high as 50 in grades eight and nine to 30 in matric. The school was set to lose seven teachers last year unless it increased its pupil numbers, which it has fast managed to do.

Ntutela and several teachers are members of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union. In her view "there have been dramatic changes in the union. They have stopped being negative. They take the drive to restore a culture of learning and teaching very seriously. If there's a strike, then we manage to make up for days lost."