East London whizz kid aces matric with 7 distinctions

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A modern-day inventor who uses technology to solve the world’s problems – this is the lofty aspiration of Engen Maths and Science School attendee, Aphelele Zenani who is well on his way to realising his dream after he recently aced his matric examinations.

An alumnus of Lumko High School in East London, Aphelele’s seven distinctions have set him on his journey of invention by securing him a place at the University of Cape Town to study Electrical and Computer Engineering in 2023.

Despite growing up in grinding poverty, Aphelele overcame the odds to notch up an impressive 93% for mathematics and 89% for science for matric, all while living with his parents and five siblings in a two-bedroom RDP house.

With both his parents unemployed, the Zenani family survives on Aphelele’s father’s SASSA old age pension and two child support grants.

“I grew up in poverty and I faced all the challenges that come with that, including a long unsafe walk to school on which I was robbed several times because we had no money for transport,” recalls Aphelele ruefully.

Undeterred, and despite there being no money for the special equipment and stationery needed for school projects, Aphelele,says he was “determined to work hard to uplift and improve the lives of my family and when times were tough I reminded myself of the need to try my best, so that I can better my family’s financial situation.”

He says the free Engen Maths and Science School supplementary classes that he attended every Saturday from grade 10-12 provided him with crucial insights in Maths, Physical Sciences and English.

“The Engen Maths and Science School really assisted me to reach my full potential.

“These extra lessons helped me feel less intimidated and gave me the confidence I needed to ask questions and identify the areas that I needed to revisit.

“I was also exposed to different teachers at the EMSS who helped me understand concepts that I did not understand at school, whilst also revising concepts already learnt at school.” 

The Engen Maths and Science Schools have run for over 35 years, and offer underprivileged grade 10-12 learners free supplementary Maths, Science and English tuition on Saturdays at ten locations across South Africa.

Engen’s manager of Transformation and Stakeholder Engagement, Dr James Nyawera explains that the EMSS programme focuses specifically on providing extra tuition in “gateway” subjects such as mathematics and science.

“These subjects are considered critical in addressing the country’s technical and engineering skills shortage as well as spurring economic growth and development,” says Nyawera.

“The EMSS programme seeks to harness the potential of talented young people in difficult circumstances and to also contribute to the pool of scarce skills in the country,” he adds.

The EMSS programme’s crucial role and relevance was highlighted after recent statistics from the Department of Basic Education (DBE) indicated that more learners are opting to write maths literacy, which increased by 108 642 learners between 2020 and 2022 compared to pure maths, which only increased by 36 419 learners over that time. 

Pupils who passed pure maths also dipped from 57.6% in 2021 to 55% in 2022.

Engen will host a series of awards ceremonies in February at the various EMSS centres across South Africa where the programme’s Grade 10-12 learners will be honoured, and the top achievers named.

These centres include Cape Town (classes are held at Belgravia and Manzombotho High), Port Elizabeth, East London, Cala and Johannesburg, and in KwaZulu-Natal where classes sit at Fairvale High School, Ganges High School, Hillview High School and Umlazi Commercial High School.

“Starting off in the late 1980’s as Engen Saturday Schools, EMSS remains central to Engen’s efforts to contribute to the growth and transformation of South Africa,” continues Nyawera.

“The programme has worked tirelessly to help transform young underprivileged people’s lives, with a focus of creating a diverse and vibrant workforce.”

Engen is incredibly proud of Alphalele and all EMSS learners who completed matric in 2022, often despite extremely trying circumstances.

As a company, Engen champions the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 4 – Quality Education, which aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

“Engen is keenly aware that access to quality education and gender equality is everybody’s business, and that it owes it to its employees, customers, and broader society to make every effort to drive positive change,” says Khalid Latiff, Engen’s General Manager: Corporate Strategy and Communications.

“It is Engen’s ultimate reward to help set talented people up to pursue stimulating careers that won’t only benefit them personally, but also their families and the broader economy of South Africa,” concludes Latiff.