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Oprah goes back to school

ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey on Saturday (January 14) visited the South African school she set up in 2007 near Johannesburg, paying tribute to the school which achieved a 100 percent pass rate for the first girls to graduate. Several students achieving strong enough grades to obtain scholarships to the best U.S. universities. Speaking at a news conference after watching the schools 72 matriculating students receiving their graduation certificates, Winfrey said that despite early teething problems, the students were able to thrive. "No school can function without the right leadership, you just can't function, and I would say that in the beginning of our early days that was really the problem," she said. The school cost Winfrey $40 million U.S. dollars of her own money when it was set up in 2007, and she says her money would now be better spent in investing in current schools rather than paying for another academy to be built from scratch. "If I have to do it again I will probably take the approach of going into schools and finding individuals, girls, and place them in already established schools, which I intend to do as I move forward," she said. "The idea of having to build bricks and mortar for me is not a sustainable ideal," she added. Oprah said that the success of her academy was down to handpicking the girls who showed the potential and willingness to succeed. The sleekly designed campus, sprawling 52 acres in the sleepy suburban community of Henley on Klip just south of Johannesburg, encompasses state of the art classrooms and laboratories equipped with flat screen computers, a yoga studio, beauty salon and well-stocked library, and offers the girls who study there a standard of education that would have been out of their reach before. Admission criteria means the family of each girl must earn less than 60,000 rand ($8,663) annually to get their foot in the door. After that, pupils are hand-picked for displaying strong leadership qualities in interviews. Winfrey says the idea for the school was inspired by her own humble beginnings, she wanted to give disadvantaged girls the opportunity to have the best start in life. Tuition and board is free at the residential school. The South African government has been criticized for neglecting public schools particularly in poor and rural areas where classrooms are often overcrowded and inadequately funded. High levels of classroom violence, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse exacerbate the poor standard of education. While authorities seek to expand a program to waive school fees for some of the poorest South Africans, many believe that the legacy of apartheid-era laws remain a disadvantage for underprivileged black students.

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