A high school for all South Africans

21 July 2021 | VC Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

Dear students and colleagues

There is no doubt that we live in two South Africas.

One South Africa was celebrated by Dr Blade Nzimande, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, in June last year when he told the 4IR Virtual Conference organised by FUZE Business Initiative: “I am always filled with hope for the future and for our country when witnessing the creativity, adaptability and devotion of …. people making use of innovative and interactive technologies.”

The other South Africa is the one where children cannot access quality education, either because it is not available in their area, they cannot afford private education or the schools that are available to them are poorly equipped and possibly overcrowded. The devastating result is that they fall by the wayside, condemned to a lifelong struggle with no way out of poverty.

Sadly, the gulf between the two South Africas is widening. Yet the fate of all of us is knit together. Our future, in many ways, depends on narrowing that divide and educating our people and particularly the youth.

This is one of the major reasons why the Council of the University of Cape Town (UCT) agreed at its meeting of Saturday, 19 June, to support a proposal to create the UCT Online High School, in partnership with Valenture Institute, a new start-up in the online secondary education space.

The UCT Online High School is an expression of the massive transformative purpose we have committed to in UCT’s Vision 2030 – to unleash human potential for a fair and just society. It is also a practical way of demonstrating that UCT wants to be not only the best university in South Africa but also the best for South Africa.

In developing the UCT Online High School, we sought out an experienced partner that understands the complexities of education in South Africa. Valenture is already running a highly effective micro school project in Mitchells Plain in collaboration with the Western Cape Education Department. In the 2020 academic year, on average, learners at the micro school jumped three grade levels in Maths, Science and English.

Robert Paddock, the chief executive of Valenture, says: “Bold moves are required to address the many challenges facing the education sector in South Africa. We are thrilled to partner with UCT to launch this timely initiative to become the first University on the African continent to extend its expertise and impact to the secondary schooling market through an innovative online modality.”

The approval by the UCT Council to proceed with this exciting initiative means that we are on a tight deadline with the Valenture Institute to implement this new venture in time for the 2022 learner intake.

The full curriculum of the UCT High School will be available as an open education resource throughout South Africa. This means learners will have free access to a self-paced curriculum where they can progress at their own pace. South Africans who failed matric can use the online curriculum to repeat the matric year. The interactive content is intuitively organised, easily searchable and most of it can be downloaded for offline access.

In addition, the UCT Online High School will improve education in South Africa by opening one of the most affordable and accessible private schools in the country. It will be accessible to all learners, including those from disadvantaged communities. We are pursuing partnerships to not only subsidise the fees, but also to establish a series of blended learning micro schools throughout the country – based on the successful pilot programme in Mitchells Plain. These micro schools will be available for learners who need the safety of a physical space, as well as access to reliable hardware and internet connection to complete their studies.

The UCT Online High School provides an ecosystem of support to create a path of success for every learner. They can attend one of our micro schools, participate in the open access programmes through a government school or do so through a programme set up outside the school system, for instance by parents or through an NGO. This is how South Africa can create true transformation: by grasping this opportunity for every learner to receive an excellent education that will prepare them to become leaders in their chosen professions.

Today we officially launched the school at a special staff meeting where we shared information about the school’s January 2022 intake and other facets of the school.

We know that some of our colleagues and students might not have been able to join us. Those include colleagues and students who are celebrating Eid ul Adha. Eid Mubarak!

We have recorded the launch so you can catch up and enjoy the launch with the rest of the community.

We are profoundly excited and look forward to this this new adventure.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

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