2023 academic year forges ahead with strong start for UCT Online High School

The UCT Online High School ConnectED parent mobile app - a first of its kind - is available on all major app stores.

The UCT Online High School ConnectED parent mobile app - a first of its kind - is available on all major app stores.

Published May 5, 2023


In July 2021, the University of Cape Town (UCT) announced the launch of UCT Online High School to unprecedented interest; becoming the first university in Africa to extend its expertise and impact to the secondary schooling market through an innovative online education system. Its goal is to provide quality online education to learners across the country.

The university partnered with Cape Town-based education technology company, Valenture Institute, to deliver the UCT Online High School - an affordable and innovative online school, offering the CAPS curriculum in Grades 8 to 11, with Grade 12 commencing this January.

This March, Valenture Institute was chosen from more than 4 000 global companies revolutionising the world of education technology to make the 2023 GSV 150 list. The list recognises the most transformational digital learning and workforce skills companies across the globe.

In August 2022, the online high school announced the launch of its Cambridge International IGCSE curriculum - one of the most affordable Cambridge International qualifications in Africa - offering an additional global education choice. In the same period, the school announced the addition of its Adult Matric curriculum (for the Amended Senior Certificate - ASC); delivered online for adult learners looking to rewrite or complete their matric qualification at an affordable cost per month.

Unique adaptability

After one full academic year, the school’s first 2022 cohort of more than 4 000 learners across a range of grades completed their studies, and in the process provided valuable feedback and insights into learning behaviours and optimal learning scenarios. With this data in hand, UCT Online High School was able to analyse and adapt to its learners’ progress for the 2023 academic year - an aspect unique to online schooling, which is considerably more adaptable than common brick and mortar schooling.

“We are proud to share that our 2023 academic year commenced with a strong start as we enter our second year of operations,” says Banele Lukhele, Executive Head of School and Chief Academic Officer. “We announced last year that we would roll out a range of enhancements ahead of the start of the new school year, including our structured flexibility model, a first-of-its-kind parent mobile app, dynamic academic support, and a gamification and rewards programme.”

As it approaches the middle of the second term, the school continues to show promising early data which indicates that learner and parent behaviour has shifted in a meaningful and productive way. “Parents are significantly more engaged with their children’s progress when compared to last year. We’ve seen an increase of more than 100% in parent portal views compared to last year - contributing to a marked increase in week-on-week learner completion rates,” adds Lukhele.

Structured flexibility

At the start of 2022, UCT Online High School followed a self-paced learning model that allowed learners to work ahead of pace or take longer to complete certain subjects, depending on their mastery of core concepts. However, this year it has introduced the concept of structured flexibility with weekly module release and weekly deadlines, with marked success.

“Last year, learners did arrive at the same endpoint, but many made these gains outside of the recommended benchmark pace. This year we saw learners achieving the same results within just a few weeks,” explains Lukhele.

“We can certainly attribute this success to multiple factors, including more stringent deadline management, the introduction of weekly work plans on the learner’s dashboard that show exactly what a learner should complete each day, as well as the gamification and rewards programme that allows learners to earn tokens for positive learning behaviours such as lesson completion, assignment submission, and course access.”

UCT Online High School has introduced the concept of structured flexibility, with weekly module release and weekly deadlines. This includes more stringent deadline management and the introduction of weekly work plans on the learner’s dashboard that show exactly what a learner should complete each day. The school’s gamification and rewards programme allows learners to earn tokens for positive learning behaviours such as lesson completion, assignment submission, and course access.

Learning triad

Even though the learner-focussed innovations are driving improved indicators of learning behaviour, the school is most excited about the continued shift in parent behaviour. The impact of parental involvement on learner academic achievement has been well researched, with it now being considered one of the most integral parts of educational reforms and initiatives. “Parental involvement is key in any school environment, but even more so in an online school where learners are not being physically supervised by school staff,” says Lukhele.

To this end, the school has made significant investments in data and features to enhance what it calls “the learning triad”, which describes the relationship between the learner, the parent, and the school.

As a vital cog in the chain, parent feedback is incredibly important at UCT Online High School. In this video, parent Sandy Naidoo shares her current experience at the school for her and her child.

“The exciting part is that online learning has the potential to offer data and a window into your child’s learning behaviour that you would not have in a brick and mortar environment. The transparency of online schooling can highlight its challenges from time to time, but we shouldn’t believe that just because we can’t see these things in a brick and mortar environment that they aren’t happening there too. I’m speaking specifically about lack of engagement, late submissions and the like. We believe that high school shouldn’t be a complex black box - online learning affords a window into behavioural data and learning progress that is beneficial for a parent to oversee and input, and for a learner to influence behaviour change that directly correlates with learning gains in their schooling journey,’” says Lukhele.

UCT Online High School has made significant investments in technology and structures to support what it calls “the learning triad”: the learner, the parent and the school, working together for the benefit and the ultimate success of a learner.

At the start of the school year, UCT Online High School launched its “ConnectED” parent mobile app - a first-of-its-kind that is available on all major app stores. The app allows parents to view their child’s progress, receive push notifications when their child displays “at-risk behaviours” like missing deadlines, and launch direct communication with their child’s Support Coach, among other unique features.

“We have designed a series of interventions that can ensure that parents are kept informed about their child’s progress through data visualisations and push notifications,” says Philippa Haw, Director of Student Success.

Parents can also reach out to their child’s dedicated Support Coach through the app to liaise on any areas of concern. The school hopes that by having this data in their pockets, parents will feel more empowered to have meaningful oversight of their child’s progress to facilitate healthy accountability, and intervene where necessary. “If we work together for the benefit of a learner, it can only have a positive effect,” adds Haw.

Adding his appreciation for the app, James Nagel, UCT Online High School parent, says, “The parent mobile app has been a complete game changer,”.

Online schools have come under a lot of scrutiny post Covid, and the question of how parents engage with their child’s schooling has never been as pertinent. Parenting is a journey filled with many unknowns, and many parents find the journey through a child’s school years unconnected and even distant. Things have now changed.

UCT Online High School seeks to leverage technology to deliver quality online education at an affordable price. Utilising technology in the education context affords a multitude of advantages for learners, their guardians or parents, as well as the school – with everyone reaping the rewards of this innovation.

Understanding that choosing a high school is an arduous task filled with complex processes and varying deadlines per province, the school has created a comprehensive “High School Application Process Guide” resource that unpacks the high school application process for 2024. It is available to download here.

In March, the school released its first informative resource for parents about “the real cost of high school in South Africa . Access this downloadable guide from the UCT Online High School website to understand more about how education costs have escalated over the past 12 years, and get a sense of how those costs are likely to continue to rise over the next decade, as well as practical steps and recommendations to help parents make informed decisions about their schooling choices.

Download a CAPS, Cambridge International IGCSE or Adult Matric curriculum Info Pack from www.uctonlinehighschool.com to find out how you can join the school of the future.

If you still have questions, or need some more guidance, contact one of UCT Online High School’s friendly Admissions Consultants at +27 21 140 1792 or email: [email protected].

UCT Online High School welcomes learners and parents from any corner of the country, looking for a high-quality, online education.

UCT Online High School does schooling differently. Forget classrooms, back-to-back lectures, and lots of wasted time. Here, the focus is on learning, and this is how they do it.

To see how it all works, head to UCT Online High School’s YouTube channel to watch the “How it works” video.