In his 2008 inauguration speech, vice-chancellor Dr Max Price referred to the crisis in public schooling and the knock-on effects for the country, and universities in particular. The impact is felt acutely at UCT, where the ongoing under-achievement and failure of black learners in the National Senior Certificate exam (particularly in township schools in and around Cape Town) results in relatively small numbers qualifying for entrance to UCT.
Price also acknowledged that tertiary institutions like UCT could no longer say the problem is not theirs to fix.
To this end, Price appointed Special Advisor John Samuel on contract for the last five months of 2009. Consulting widely across the institution, Samuel gathered information on all UCT's initiatives at schools in the Western Cape.
A consultative forum was also constituted, chaired by Samuel. After Samuel's contact ended, deputy vice-chancellor Professor Crain Soudien took the helm of this project. Subsequently, the EduLab initiative, as it became to be known, proposed that UCT focus its attention on a single geographical area. After consideration, Khayelitsha was chosen.
"It is important to stress that from the outset Edulab has understood the need to take a holistic approach to working in schools, with a number of organising principles that go beyond simply seeking to impact positively on teaching and learning in the classroom," said Soudien.
"For instance, it has been agreed that the over-arching goal is to promote democratic citizenship; that schools themselves have to be considered 'in community', and crucially, there are no education 'quick fixes'."
It is also recognised that the Edulab initiative has important transformative potential for institutions.
Meetings have been held with Western Cape Education Department officials responsible for schools in that area, and with the Khayelitsha Development Forum and its education sub-structure.
The next step for Edulab is a comprehensive mapping of the university community's initiatives in Khayelitsha. This will involve an extensive survey of all academic departments and PASS units. Edulab is also keen to hear from individuals, independently of their departments, who are involved in community-related work in the area and who would be interested in the discussions.
Those interested may email Crain Soudien.
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