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Online learning: Fixing our broken education system

Written by Banele Lukhele, Executive Head of School and Chief Academic Officer, UCT Online High School

It’s the end of another school year. Learners are writing their end-of-year examinations and schools are getting ready to send out reports. This is a special time for UCT Online High School as this is the end of our very first year. We are proud to have more than 4000 learners completing Grades 8, 9, 10 and 11, and our exams have gone really well, despite the challenges of load shedding, which are significant for an online school. 

But there are also many families who are uncertain whether or not they will find places for their children in schools in January. We are a young country, with more than half of our population under the age of 25, and there are simply not enough places in existing schools to meet the demand. Not being able to secure a place in school is devastating for families and damaging to our future as a country. This is why I believe that offering quality online learning opportunities is so important; this is our purpose and passion.

We all remember our school days. We can name the teachers we loved and others who terrified us. Whether we were in a class of 30 or a class of 90 other learners, our classroom experiences stay with us. But learning online is different in many ways. So when we started to think about online schooling — with the vision to reach thousands of learners— an important part of understanding the learning opportunities at hand was to start with a change in mindset.

An online school opens up a myriad of opportunities that are not possible within the limitations of physical boundaries. For example, our cohorts for each grade would be a ridiculously large class in a conventional school. But it doesn’t make sense to organise online learning in this way. Rather than “teaching to the middle” as if we were in a physical classroom, we can allow every learner to move at their own pace within the structure of our week-by-week timetable, taking a break when they need to, studying at the time of day that best suits them and allowing for any special needs that they might have. We are able to track the progress of every one of these learners far more closely than is possible in a conventional classroom, using digital data to best effect, enabling our Learning Facilitators and Support Coaches to respond to both individual and collective needs.

Some assume that learning online must be a lonely experience. But, over and over again, our experience over the past months has shown us how our learners take up opportunities to socialise. We now offer more than 20 virtual clubs and societies. Learners are able to organise their own meet-ups with their peers, both online and also face-to-face, in the areas where they live. 

Because online learning is such a different environment to the conventional classroom, we have learned that we must also reconceptualise the role of the teacher. From our experience through our first year, we have seen that using a team approach to enable learners to reach their full potential is far better than expecting a teacher to do everything. In line with this thinking, we have broken down the “teacher” role into more specialised roles — Subject Specialists and Learning Facilitators — all of whom are fully qualified educational specialists. They work alongside qualified Support Coaches to provide a holistic educational experience. Detailed studies of conventional teaching in other countries have shown both that teachers are massively overloaded and that, often, their administrative and support obligations swamp out their actual teaching time. Rethinking the role of the teacher is also an effective response to a further challenge in conventional schooling in South Africa - a critical shortage of new teachers to replace the large number of experienced teachers who will retire in the next few years. 

Conventional schooling in South Africa is spiraling into a crisis, with nowhere near enough school places and far too few qualified teachers. The option of online schooling relieves families of the devastating feeling of uncertainty and gives more young people access to quality education, as is their right and our responsibility.

Join the school of the future, join UCT Online High School. Our applications for the 2023 academic year are now open. Apply now and start in January 2023. Applications close 30 December 2022, so get yours in today!

For more information book a call with one of our friendly Admissions Consultants at +27 21 140 1792, or email admissions@uctohs.valentureonline.com, and they’ll be sure to answer any questions you may have.

It’s the end of another school year. Learners are writing their end-of-year examinations and schools are getting ready to send out reports. This is a special time for UCT Online High School as this is the end of our very first year. We are proud to have more than 4000 learners completing Grades 8, 9, 10 and 11, and our exams have gone really well, despite the challenges of load shedding, which are significant for an online school. 

But there are also many families who are uncertain whether or not they will find places for their children in schools in January. We are a young country, with more than half of our population under the age of 25, and there are simply not enough places in existing schools to meet the demand. Not being able to secure a place in school is devastating for families and damaging to our future as a country. This is why I believe that offering quality online learning opportunities is so important; this is our purpose and passion.

We all remember our school days. We can name the teachers we loved and others who terrified us. Whether we were in a class of 30 or a class of 90 other learners, our classroom experiences stay with us. But learning online is different in many ways. So when we started to think about online schooling — with the vision to reach thousands of learners— an important part of understanding the learning opportunities at hand was to start with a change in mindset.

An online school opens up a myriad of opportunities that are not possible within the limitations of physical boundaries. For example, our cohorts for each grade would be a ridiculously large class in a conventional school. But it doesn’t make sense to organise online learning in this way. Rather than “teaching to the middle” as if we were in a physical classroom, we can allow every learner to move at their own pace within the structure of our week-by-week timetable, taking a break when they need to, studying at the time of day that best suits them and allowing for any special needs that they might have. We are able to track the progress of every one of these learners far more closely than is possible in a conventional classroom, using digital data to best effect, enabling our Learning Facilitators and Support Coaches to respond to both individual and collective needs.

Some assume that learning online must be a lonely experience. But, over and over again, our experience over the past months has shown us how our learners take up opportunities to socialise. We now offer more than 20 virtual clubs and societies. Learners are able to organise their own meet-ups with their peers, both online and also face-to-face, in the areas where they live. 

Because online learning is such a different environment to the conventional classroom, we have learned that we must also reconceptualise the role of the teacher. From our experience through our first year, we have seen that using a team approach to enable learners to reach their full potential is far better than expecting a teacher to do everything. In line with this thinking, we have broken down the “teacher” role into more specialised roles — Subject Specialists and Learning Facilitators — all of whom are fully qualified educational specialists. They work alongside qualified Support Coaches to provide a holistic educational experience. Detailed studies of conventional teaching in other countries have shown both that teachers are massively overloaded and that, often, their administrative and support obligations swamp out their actual teaching time. Rethinking the role of the teacher is also an effective response to a further challenge in conventional schooling in South Africa - a critical shortage of new teachers to replace the large number of experienced teachers who will retire in the next few years. 

Conventional schooling in South Africa is spiraling into a crisis, with nowhere near enough school places and far too few qualified teachers. The option of online schooling relieves families of the devastating feeling of uncertainty and gives more young people access to quality education, as is their right and our responsibility.

Join the school of the future, join UCT Online High School. Our applications for the 2023 academic year are now open. Apply now and start in January 2023. Applications close 30 December 2022, so get yours in today!

For more information book a call with one of our friendly Admissions Consultants at +27 21 140 1792, or email admissions@uctohs.valentureonline.com, and they’ll be sure to answer any questions you may have.

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