Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

Sumbandila Scholarship Trust

Leveraging the potential of outlying learners to develop a value for higher education.

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Facilitate access to educational opportunities | 22 March, 2013 - 02:34


Education in South Africa’s Limpopo Province is in crisis. Limpopo has the highest number of dysfunctional schools in the country. Schools are under-staffed, poorly resourced, ineffectively managed and disciplined, and consistently low in academic performance. Results from the Department of Education’s 2012 Annual National Assessment show that Limpopo Schools’ Grade 9 pupils scored an average of only 8.5% in Maths. Basic linguistic and communication skills also trouble our students. The global Progress in International Reading Literacy Study of 2011 reported that South Africa ranked last on reading literacy scores (out of 49 participating countries). The problems facing basic education must be attributed not only to poor school performance, but also to poor participation by all stakeholders, including: parents, teachers, trade unions, school governing bodies, government departments, the private sector, and learners themselves. 

Compounding this problem is a persistent culture of under-ambition and under-achievement perpetuated by teachers and learners in South African schools. In rural Limpopo, schools lack discipline and teachers have a track record of absenteeism. One Human Sciences Research Council report concludes that almost 20% of teachers are absent during school days and that overall, teachers in black schools teach an average of 3 hours less per day compared to their counterparts in former white schools who average 6.5 hours.  This means that some learners loose roughly three years of schooling due to teacher absenteeism.

The Sumbandila Scholarship Trust’s mission is to help youngsters from these Limpopo schools develop the ability and willingness to succeed academically at higher education levels. Its unique “Outliers” enrichment programme assists exceptional adolescents from rural and disadvantaged communities in Limpopo to develop their potential in pursuit of education beyond high school – albeit university or technological training. At the heart of Sumbandila’s vision is the desire to inculcate a sense that individuals can and must make a difference as social entrepreneurs.

Based at Ridgeway College, in the town of Makhado (formerly Louis Trichardt), the Sumbandila Outliers Programme serves over grade 8 – 12 learners attending schools in the former ‘homelands’ of Venda and Gazankulu. The rural areas from which Sumbandila draws its students are characterized by deeply entrenched social problems and poverty, degraded physical environments and poorly performing schools – all of which limit opportunity and achievement. Moreover, the migration to the cities of successful individuals who could act as role models exacerbates the lack of meaning and ambition in the lives of rural children.

Although Sumbandila helps only a small number of learners, the goal is to keep them successful in school, connect them to opportunities they would never otherwise have, help them build the confidence, determination and will to succeed.

Programme strategy

Sumbandila Outlier Programme assists exceptional children from rural and disadvantaged communities in Limpopo to develop their potential, enabling them to access tertiary education. The programme has been implemented for 5 years for grade 8 – 10 learners. After 5 years of high-school mentorship the first cohort will matriculate in 2012 and transition into higher education institutions in 2013.

Implementation lessons to share

Invest in potential – Sumbandila Outliers Programme is designed to invest in individuals that show extraordinary potential. Our implementation strategy is thus strategically designed to invest in ‘above ordinary’ potential, with the hope that they will be role models for other students and future leaders in society.

Select wisely and diligently – Right from the start we adopted a rigorous testing process to select programme participants. This attention to selection detail has ensured a low dropout rate, and guaranteed that our program caters to the similar needs of comparable students. Every year we test between 500 and 600 grade 7 learners who are identified by their school principals as the top students. They complete a series of tests to assess language and arithmetic ability. Top candidates are then invited for interviews and further testing, including a creativity test, a ‘culturally fair’ IQ test, and an entrepreneurial potential test. Only the top performers are invited to join the programme.

Address the critical challenges that learners face – although these students show unique potential their life circumstances and poor schooling experience has undermined their academic excellence. They first need remedial academic assistance before moving onto advanced, supplemental work, and we ensure that this is provided early on.

Support / supplement existing curricula – During the school term learners attend bi-monthly Saturday Schools, and over the holidays they participate in weeklong holiday schools where remedial teachers and experts provide maths, information technology, science, and English lessons. In 2012 we provided 136 learners with an extra 38 days of high-quality teaching, practical science experiments and intensive computing experience. We teach the national education curriculum so that students are not distracted from their schoolwork, or unnecessarily overburdened. This also helps us garner support from schools and teachers, as we pose no challenge to their existing system; instead we are partners in education.

Provide a holistic learning experience – given their very academically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds we have aimed at providing our learners with a holistic learning experience, focussing not only on literacy and academic subjects but also on psychosocial wellbeing and life skills. We place a heavy emphasis on Life Skills, personal development, and broad general knowledge, as well as exposure to new ideas and experiences.

Adapt and refine the program – over the 5-year implementation period we have refined our strategy considerably. Initially we offered maths, information technology, science, and English lessons to all grades. Now we focus on literacy and remedial English only in Grades 8 and 9. In Grades 10 to 12 the focus is not only on teaching the national curriculum, but also on providing the necessary support to students to make choices about their future careers and maximise their schooling experiences.

Use resources efficiently – our programme cost only five thousand Rand per student per year. We established partnerships with the local department of education and the Ridgeway College to share infrastructure. This mitigates the start-up costs and facility costs. We also use the national curriculum so there are not costs spent on developing new education materials.

Learn from peer role models – Saturday schools for the initial 17 learners selected for the Sumbandila Outlier Programme began five years ago. Subsequent Sumbandila cohorts have been fortunate to have this group as their mentors, role models and guides. Learners and Sumbandila staff have benefited from their insights and experiences shared over the five years of initial program development and implementation, and the monitoring of this cohort has helped us make changes to better the overall implementation for future cohorts. 

Continual investment in the future – During grade 10-12 we guide the learners’ subject choices, provide intensive career advice, and connect them to appropriate post-school opportunities. Our very first cohort were mentored for five years and graduated in 2012. To prepare them to maximize the opportunities offered by life outside of high school we assisted them in the following ways:

  1. Provided remedial teaching to help them pass the matric exams.
  2. Supplied direct assistance in identifying post school opportunities, such as approaching bursary schemes and universities for information and application forms.
  3. Assisted with applications to tertiary institutions and bursaries / scholarships.
  4. Covered application and transportation costs so that they could get to examination and testing venues.
  5. Assisted and prepared the learners to take the National Benchmark Tests and covered all the associated costs.

Results and lessons for the future

Our first matriculating cohort of 2012 all applied for University or University of technology entrance. Not all of them were successful but more than half got into the programmes they applied for.

In the next phase of our support, we need a new organisational strategy that will include mentoring these learners throughout university or their first job, in order to make sure they succeed, and to help them know how to bring back the benefit they have received into their own communities.

We believe that we have managed to change the perception that university is only one of the many options available for gaining higher education beyond high school. We encourage our students to see the value of other avenues of study that are more relevant and more suitable to particular students’ abilities and interests.


Leeu Street, Louis Trichardt, Limpopo South Africa

 071 333 6241


In Short


The Sumbandila Outliers programme provides a model of how to implement a merit-based, remedial and enrichment program for exceptional adolescents from rural and disadvantaged schools in South Africa. This learning brief provides experience-based lessons on how to assist unique individuals develop their academic and entrepreneurial potential in pursuit of higher education beyond high school, without adding to the existing pressures of their daily high-school-going lives.

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