Principal's Address at Founder's Day 2019

BY Mrs K. Stear

• Our guest of honour, guest speaker Dr Lisa Dondashe,
• Those who hold the premier award of the school, the Freedom of Riebeek College,
• Special guests, 
• especially our reunion groups and 
• two past Principals, Mrs Natalie Stear and Mrs Marilyn Dodd Woods 
• Ladies and Gentlemen
• and young Ladies of Riebeek College.
I welcome you all to this 32nd Founders Day Service and the anniversary of the founding of our school 142 years ago.
As I look out onto the audience, I am aware that I am about to address our Old Girls as well as the present learners who all come from different generations and life experiences. What do you say to a mixture of the young and the old, the learners and the learned, who come from different generations with different life paths and cultures? The one thing you all have in common is an all-girls education.
Going back in time to 1877, Dominee Braam Steytler, the founder of our school, established a quality school for girls only. He saw fit to fight for his belief in establishing a school for young girls. Today I want to look at exactly why this struggle for a single sex school was so revolutionary at the time and so beneficial over time. 
Recently, one of my friends asked for my opinion on where her daughter should go to high school. It makes sense; you ask a mechanic about a car, so ask an educator about a school. However, she added, “I want to know what is the best option for a girl in this day and age?” This led me to think about the successful woman I know and what immediately sprang to mind was our Founder’s Day. We hear the success stories of our Old Girls and our present learners are inspired by these ladies. It is a powerhouse day of women demonstrating present power and potential power. As Emily Taft Douglas wrote: “If women understood and exercised their power they could remake the world”.
Boys take risks far more than girls. An example of this is, if a project to build a bridge is given to groups, boys will experiment, build and fail, and go on until they get it right. Girls tend to plan first, think the problem through and then build. They also get it right, but by a different route. Both methods are correct and our world needs both types of thinkers. Research shows that girls learn differently from boys, which means you are advantaged attending a school that teaches you according to how your gender functions best. Margaret Thatcher said, and I apologise in advance to the men in the hall today: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” 
At a girls’ school, there are fewer distractions. Teenage girls just do better when there is no boy in a nearby desk causing hormonal distractions. Fewer distractions mean a girl can focus on being herself, finding out who she is, exploring new lines of thinking and can think outside the box with relative impunity. A certain woman I know who attended an all-girls’ school was asked what the best part of the experience was and she answered, only half-joking, “I rarely had to shave my legs.”
When a school does not have to accommodate both sexes, it simplifies the running and organisation of the school. The only focus is girls and their needs. A Riebeek girl benefits from teachers who understand how girls learn. They provide the kind of nurturing and encouragement a girl needs to become all that she can and wants to be. One of our teachers remembers reading a novel to Riebeek Grade 9s. While reading, she noticed that the girls were in tears. She was horrified that something terrible must have happened. It turned out that the girls were crying about the sadness of the story. At a co-ed school the boys would have laughed. The girls would have stayed detached because crying about a book would not have been cool. A teacher at a co-ed school can really shout at her class and call them losers and insult them, and the reaction from the boys would be laughter and agreement. But in a girls’ school, just telling a learner that you are …. Disappointed … is enough to traumatize the class.
Career aspirations will no longer be limited if there was more single sex education. Women in politics and at the top of the corporate ladder are still somewhat of a novelty in this country. Imagine how much different our world would be if there were more women at the top of all these careers? The thinking skills which women bring to the table would be a refreshing counter to all those years of stubborn, egomaniacal males who have done a less than stellar job of running just about everything. Girls need to be told and made to believe that they can run things. They can be a president or a Hollywood star or the breadwinner in the family or an astronaut – if they can dream it, they can be it without gender bias. Girls’ schools are designers of dreams.
When girls go to single-sex schools, they stop being the audience and become the players. This is the bottom line and one of the most compelling reasons why girls benefit from a single sex school setting. A Bristol University study found that girls’ schools encourage “improved self-esteem and psychological and social well-being in adolescent girls”. Girls in coed schools suffer lower self-esteem and greater pressure to be thin.
Girls at girls’ schools are taught not to sit back and be passive. Girls are given the courage and the experience in school to face the challenges ahead with equanimity and aplomb. Leadership and strengths blossom in a girls’ school environment. The opportunities for student leadership positions are doubled for girls in a single-sex school. In a co-ed school, there is an equal division of leadership positions between girls and boys. 
I personally love girls’ schools because they are aspirational. They focus on teaching girls what they can achieve in the world and the difference they can make. They are noisy places. There is a tone, a volume, a pitch that speaks to self-confidence and exuberance. It is a noise that can do your head in as a teacher, but it is a noise I like. It sounds like girls becoming women with something to say and the confidence to choose a life they’ll love. 
The thing about an all-girls school is that it’s a sisterhood. It is great not to feel the pressures of a co-ed school, where girls dread being left out or noticed. Girls are entitled to feel secure, safe, and confident in a single gender school. 
Girls are more comfortable to be seen as academic in the absence of boys. In fact, girls’ schools tend towards a culture where academic achievement is highly valued. Girls also take greater learning risks in the absence of boys. They are more inclined to ask questions and be creative in their thinking. Therefore, they thrive. Girls’ schools do very well academically. I just want to drop something in here – remember that Riebeek has a 100% pass rate and learners who obtain 6 to 7 distinctions in the matric exams. Just saying! Girls are three times more likely to take pure mathematics and science in an all-girls school. In a co-ed class, boys receive up to eight times as much teacher time as girls. Girls are called on less often and they are asked their opinion less often. When teachers ask boys question, they give them a longer time to answer than they do for girls. There are also more behaviour issues among boys that take up the teachers’ focus and time. 
Girls are more likely to participate in sport in girls’ schools. Many teenage girls stop playing sport in coed schools. They also limit which sporting activities they will participate in. In a co-ed school, factors such as distractions, uneven skill levels, uneven strength levels, self-consciousness, embarrassment, peer pressure, and intimidation were identified as negatively influencing girls’ participation and performance in Phys Ed. While at a girls’ school, the biggest phys ed challenge is to convince the male phys ed teacher that you and the whole class are all on the same cycle every time there is phys ed. 
We are brought up in a culture that indirectly promotes male chauvinism. But not at Riebeek! They say it’s natural for men to show superiority, dominance and aggression and for women to be weak and servile. Really? The truth is, these stereotypes can all be changed and are changed at Riebeek. The strongest actions for a woman is to love herself, be herself and shine in a world where it is sometimes believed that she cannot.
Our founders did well to choose the feminine queen bee as the school emblem. The Bee is one of our important traditions and it has become a tradition to read, at Founder's Day, Mrs Rose Loggenberg Hartman’s letter written in 1999 recounting the origin of the Silver Riebeek Bee Pin motif. She wrote: “Miss Brehm, who was a staff member of the school, while on a visit to London, commissioned a jeweler to fashion the “Bee” into a brooch, intending that it be worn as part of the school uniform. This idea proved to be non-feasible and she contented herself that only one be made for her. One day, while on a visit to our home, she presented this to my sister, Dorothy, who treasured it as a gift from a valued family friend. Subsequently, Dorothy handed “The Bee” to Miss Bartlett, intending it should be held in trust for each succeeding Headmistress of Riebeek College to be worn when the occasion deemed it fitting. I think this was a happy gesture lending an added charm to the tradition. It only remains for me to wish you a most successful, memorable and joyous linking of hands with the past on this day, and that Riebeek College continues its successful path into the future.”
Diane Mariechild said: A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform. Thus, Riebeek was born in 1877 and over the years has created, nurtured and transformed through balancing old and new, tradition and transformation, conformity and change, history and adaptions, and all of that with a belief in the importance of girls’ dreams. We salute this school for her strong actions in women empowerment.

 May 05, 2019
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