UCT unveils new online high school to bridge inequality gap

Pupils will be able to attend an online UCT high school from 2022.
Pupils will be able to attend an online UCT high school from 2022.
Image: Sunday Times

The University of Cape Town (UCT) is opening an online high school in 2022, it announced on Wednesday.

Vice-chancellor Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng said the school, which UCT will run with the Valenture Institute, would help disadvantaged children to shine in spite of their socio-economic circumstances.

The R2,095-a-month school will increase access to high quality schooling and use innovative digital techniques to close the gap between school and university education, she said.

“We get to imagine the learning process from the ground up,” Phakeng said at a media briefing.

“We are thinking differently about high school and designing an experience that will deliver quality education at scale.”

Describing the new institution as SA’s most affordable private school, Phakeng said it will offer high quality education with support from experts, expert teachers and mentors.

“This ecosystem includes a series of blended learning model schools for pupils who need the safety of the physical space as well as access to reliable hardware and internet connections to complete their studies,” she said.

“In the future we will provide bridging courses and matric rewrite programmes and an alternative university credit programme to provide South Africans with alternative and affordable pathways to achieve tertiary awards.”

Phakeng said the school — already operating as a successful blended learning programme in Mitchells Plain, Cape Town, in partnership with the Western Cape education department — will use existing infrastructure to bring pupils under one roof. However, the curriculum will be online.

In Mitchells Plain, pupils have recorded dramatic improvements in maths, science and English, she said.

“This is how SA can create transformation, by grabbing this opportunity for every pupil to receive an excellent education that will prepare them to succeed in school, in university and in life,” said Phakeng.

“We are taking the innovation we are already exercising in teaching research and social responsiveness and applying it to help unleash SA’s greatest potential, our young people,” she said.

UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng says the new online school will bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.
UCT vice-chancellor Mamokgethi Phakeng says the new online school will bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.
Image: Esa Alexander

UCT chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe said Covid-19 was widening inequality and “there will be social and economic implications far into the future if we don’t act swiftly to ensure every child’s right to learn”.

Speaking about looting in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, she said: “Last week we witnessed how divided, alienated, racked with anger and despair our society has become.

“A society where there is no discernible pathway towards prosperity and freedom cannot be a stable one. It will always be vulnerable to such eruptions. Our youth must be the generation who rebuild what has been shaken loose in our society and our economy.”

UCT council chair Babalwa Ngonyama said UCT’s belief in driving excellence is behind the decision to open a high school.

“Africa’s top-ranking university is not an ivory tower that is removed from SA’s reality. Studies around the world have shown excellence in higher education depends on a strong high school education system to continue to achieve academic excellence at UCT and other SA universities,” she said.

The new school would provide an opportunity to address gender disparities in society and nurture women leaders.

“We been careful to ensure that the UCT online high school’s diversity and transformation policies closely mirror our own ethnicity,” said Ngonyama.

“The combination of online provision, mentorship and micro-schools that are embedded in their communities offer particular opportunities for enabling access to opportunities for pupils with different forms of barriers to learning.

“Every applicant with a self-proclaimed barrier will be assessed by an educational psychologist before being accepted into the high school. The partners have committed to opening a special needs division to an even broader range of pupils who face barriers to learning.”

Valenture CEO Robert Paddock said the new high school, which will enrol children in grades 8 to 11 from next year, will redefine what it means to be a school.

Pupils will have the opportunity to graduate on UCT’s campus, enjoy access to UCT facilities for scheduled events, and participate in the virtual fireside chat series with UCT faculty members.