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New Covid variant extends online learning period

The UCT Online High School has received more than 5000 applications. Photo: Tracey Adams

The UCT Online High School has received more than 5000 applications. Photo: Tracey Adams

Published Dec 6, 2021

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The arrival of the fourth wave of Covid-19 via the latest Omicron variant has put online learning higher on the agenda, with another new option for South African parents to consider for their children in 2022.

The UCT Online High School has received more than 5000 applications. Photo: Tracey Adams

Switch eDU Online is a digital school offering what it described as a contemporary and fresh new approach to learning based on the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement requirements.

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"We promise to provide learners with the best possible chance to reach their full potential and have the best start in life. This intentional foundation will equip them to take on the world with confidence and relevant skills that ensure their future success," says Nicky Blumenfeld, communications specialist at Switch eDU Online. She added that all teaching is informed by real-life learning based on personal development, forward-thinking and global outlook.

The online school aims to make education accessible by providing affordable private school education tailored by the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement requirements. Fees for the school range from R1 250 for the foundation phase to R1 499 for the intermediate and senior grades.

Although distance learning has for years embraced digital platforms, the take-up of online learning for schools and universities was astronomical. Parents and children have adapted to change, resulting in Switch eDu Online renewing its traditional teaching methods to deliver a dynamic, relevant, and practical curriculum that reflects current attributes.

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“With our team of highly experienced and passionate education specialists, we were inspired to rethink learning and launched Switch eDU Online,” said Blumenfeld.

Switch eDU Online offers an end-to-end Learner Management System called Classter, allowing pupils to keep track of their academic performance with a personalised calendar of events and teaching schedules. Parents can also follow their children's schedules and general academic performance and contact teachers.

Five-hundred institutions use Classter in more than 25 countries around the world. Teachers can use this platform to upload tasks, homework or lesson plans, and other class activities for pupils to access. In addition, Switch eDu also provides optional short courses in international languages such as French, Swahili, Mandarin, German.

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“Our objective is to encourage independent and experienced-based learning beyond the classroom, be it at home, socially or outdoor environment to encourage active learning that stipulates the mind, body, and soul,” said Blumenfeld.

She said the school aims to provide real-life or stimulated tasks that allow the pupil to connect directly with the world to make the learning process relevant and meaningful.

There has been significant growth in online learning since the Covid-19 pandemic started in early 2020. The pandemic, followed by the lockdowns aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, forced schools, universities, and companies to work remotely, resulting in an explosion in the update on internet-based services.

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In July, the University of Cape Town launched the UCT Online High School private high school in partnership with Cape Town-based education technology company Valenture Institute. It has already received more than 5 000 applications, indicating strong demand for its innovative offering. Its model enables pupils to pace their learning while providing 1:1 tutoring from teachers and coaches. While affordably priced at R2 095 per month, it is still out of the reach of some South Africans.

UCT Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said that a Sanlam scholarship programme aligned with UCT's vision of transformation, excellence, and sustainability funding would give 100 pupils opportunities to study at the school. “Through this generous funding, the virtual gates of learning will be open to many more financially disadvantaged yet academically deserving learners. It will also enable high-performing learners to be part of the school, while the long-term nature of the funding means learners will benefit not only on a once-off basis but for years to come,” she said in a statement.

“When we launched the school, we committed to ensuring that as much as it is one of the more affordable private schools in the country, we were going to make means available to support needy learners. This is another way to ensure that we live up to our vision of unleashing human potential for a fair and just society. We are grateful to Sanlam for supporting us in the realisation of this commitment, and we look forward to welcoming many more corporates on board in this endeavour.”

Sanlam’s Group Human Resources Director, Jeanett Modise, said: “For us, this is about establishing a diverse and transformed talent pipeline of the future skills that South Africa so desperately needs. Many academically gifted learners in our country may not have access to the level of education that will help them realise their full potential. By providing their tuition, these learners have a greater chance at accessing world-class private schooling – and a future where they can live with confidence.

“We hope that we are the first of many corporates to sponsor learners through the Sanlam UCT Online High School Scholarship Programme so that we can open this opportunity to as many talented young people as possible.”

Modise said UCT, in collaboration with the Valenture Institute, has done a remarkable job of delivering the school at the perfect time. “The pandemic has taught us very quickly that face-to-face interaction isn't the only option to achieve big things if done right. We've seen that in the corporate world and, increasingly, in academia too. We are so excited to play a part in delivering this wonderful opportunity to 100 students and cannot wait to watch their progress over the coming months and years.”

Robert Paddock, CEO of Valenture, expressed his excitement about the scholarship. “We are delighted to partner with Sanlam to extend the reach of the UCT Online High School. It is often said that talent is evenly distributed. Still, the opportunity is not easily available, and, through the Sanlam UCT Online High School Scholarship Programme, we will be able to extend the opportunity to receive a high-quality education to even more deserving learners around the country."

According to a report by global education market intelligence firm HolonIQ, governments, employers, and consumers together will spend over $7 trillion a year on education and training by 2025. Post-Covid, HolonIQ sees significant growth in early childhood and workforce education, tuition deflation in higher education. HolonIQ expects total global education technology (EdTech) expenditure to reach $404-billion by 2025, representing a 16.3% compound annual growth rate between 2019-2025.

Meanwhile, to ensure the tertiary sector is equipped for online learning, on December 1, the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Blade Nzimande, announced that provision would be made for varsity students via the National Students Financial Aid Scheme to use learning material allowances for the purchase of a digital learning device (laptop or tablet).

In response to a parliamentary question, the minister said that all university students qualify for a learning materials allowance set at a maximum amount of R5 200.

Nzimande said that data provided for students was required for online access for teaching and learning and assessments across the system. “The average data provision requirement across the system for all undergraduate students was 90% and 91% for NSFAS students, as reported by institutions in the September 2021 monitoring reports,” said Nzimande.

Fourteen institutions (CPUT, MUT, SPU, UCT, UFS, UJ, UKZN, UMP, UP, Unisa, UniZulu, UWC, WITS, and WSU) reported that 100% of their students had been provided with data.

Seven (7) universities (NMU, SMU, SUN, TUT, UFH, UL, and VUT) reported that 90- 99% of their students were provided with data. “DUT wrote 85% of their students to have been provided with data. CPUT reported 73%, NWU said that 70% of their students had been provided with data in the period. Univen reported 45% of their students to have been provided with data in the period under review. RU said 13% of their students had been provided with data, according to Nzimande.

The minister said that students who are on campus and living in university residences enjoy access to campus wi-fi, so many students did not require mobile data at all times.

Online learning, though from schooling to the tertiary sector, is no longer negotiable but a necessity.

Sunday Independent

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