Robert Paddock is the co-founder of UCT Online High School. Picture: Ruvan Boshoff.
Robert Paddock is the co-founder of UCT Online High School. Picture: Ruvan Boshoff.

UCT Online High School opens virtual doors to more than 4000 pupils

By Keshia Africa Time of article published Jan 9, 2022

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On Monday the University of Cape Town’s online high school opens its virtual doors to more than 4000 pupils.

The first of school of its kind for a university, 30% of pupils will comprise Grade 8, 20% Grade 9 and a 50% split between Grade 10 and Grade 11. The school will only take Grade 12 pupils next year.

The school was launched in partnership with a Cape Town-based edu-tech company, Valenture Institute.

Logan Lund, Lazonia Paulse and Milane Filante are three pupils who have received scholarships to attend the school.

Logan Lund will start his first year of high school at UCT Online High School. Picture: Supplied

Logan, 13, from Lotus River, said he was excited to begin high school online.

“It will be something different but I am worried about how it will affect my social life as there will be no interaction with classmates like I am used to.”

He added: “I think this will be a great challenge for me and I like challenges. I am concerned about how load-shedding will affect my education.”

And 16-year-old Lazonia from Mitchell’s Plain was ready for Grade 11 although she was worried about the work load.

“It’s something new that I will experience. I am afraid that the workload will be more than what I can deal with,” she said.

“I know this is a privilege and I am very grateful for it. I know that because we work on the internet it can be easy to get distracted by YouTube but we need to be focused.”

Milani Filante is excited to attend an online school as he doesn’t like writing on paper. Picture: Supplied

Milani, 13, from Gugulethu said he was looking forward to a new way of learning as he enters Grade 8.

“I hate writing in books so I am excited to type as I hate using pen and paper,” he said.

At a cost of just over R25 000 annually, the high school offers teaching based on a ’self-discipline’ model which allows pupils to pace their learning and get high quality tutoring from the school’s staff, a complement of more than 300 teachers and support coaches.

Co-founder of both UCT Online High School and Valenture Institute, Robert Paddock, said he believed teachers should be free to do what they do best, teach. Paddock said teachers were the primary expense to any school that exists.

“If you record high-quality videos once-off rather than getting a teacher talking at you, giving didactic instruction. The alternative means getting the students to watch the videos and getting teachers to spend their time doing what technology can’t do,” he said.

“We want to get technology to do more of the load that has historically been done by teachers. You don’t have to pay tech a monthly salary. This is how we cut costs and make education more affordable.”

Paddock said the world needed to start thinking of the efficiencies technology could bring to free up teacher time.

“You can’t ignore that over 70% of the expenditure of the school is just salaries. This doesn’t mean we’re taking away the role of a teacher,” he explained.

“Teachers are expected to perform so many jobs consistently. We would rather have them hyper-focused on one task so that they can do a great job at it.”

Paddock said the traditional education system cannot be built fast enough to meet the educational needs of the country.

“This is a ticking time bomb. We can’t continue to do what we’ve done historically and hope that it will magically be fixed,” he said.

He added: “We have to be thinking about the digital provision and online and blended learning solutions that create more access points for learners to receive a quality education.”

To aid this, Valenture Institute has offered micro-schools, while all academic activities take place online pupils still come to a physical school every day.

“We provide internet connectivity, laptops and a mentor from the community who ensures that they are supervised. This is a fee-free service and we want to show that the best of digital and in-person classes can be brought together to serve those in need.”

Paddock’s introduction into education started when he founded online education business GetSmarter with his brother, Sam Paddock, in 2008. He later helped start digital learning agency, Hubble Studios, in 2012. Valenture Institute was founded in 2017 which has now partnered with UCT to open its first high school.

“South Africa has a massive disparity between those exposed to opportunity and those who are not. The difference is the enabling environment that creates the economic upward mobility to intellectual enablement,” he said.

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