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Another SA education institution ventures into online schooling

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 21 Sept 2021

Eastern Cape-based private, co-educational school Woodridge College has become the latest entrant in SA’s burgeoning online school space.

The school has introduced Woodridge Connect, describing it as a “new-generation online school”.

It will follow the Independent Examinations Board syllabus, catering for grades eight and nine when the new academic year kicks-off in 2022, and will expand to grades 10 to 12 in 2023.

For Woodridge, venturing into the online school space forms part of re-imagining the education system and customising it to each learner's interests, strengths and future aspirations.

Dave Emslie, Woodridge Connect business manager, believes “new-generation” learning facilities that have freedom and flexibility are needed to give learners ultimate control of their learning experience.

“Nurturing each learner's natural sense of curiosity, and their passions, is imperative to the Woodridge Connect purpose. Through our three-pronged approach to learning, we customise content to cater to each learner's unique needs.

“With a combination of self-paced learning, peer-to-peer learning, and live facilitated tutorials, we design each learner's experience in a way that harnesses their true potential. Here we build students who can navigate today's world and be prepared for the future.”

Costs include an application fee of R500, as well as a R6 000 deposit that’s payable upon provisional acceptance.

Growing online trend

The launch of Woodridge Connect follows increased activity in the online education space, with the University of Cape Town (UCT) among the institutions to recently unveil an online high school.

In July, it introduced the UCT Online High School, billing itself as the first university in Africa to extend its expertise to the secondary schooling market through an online modality.

According to UCT, learners and teachers have shown interest in its education offering, with over 4 000 learner applications for January 2022 so far, and rising.

Yandiswa Xhakaza, an avid educationalist, has been appointed as the new director and principal of the UCT Online High School.

“Online education in our context will always come with its own fair share of challenges as a developing country,” says Xhakaza.

“The digital divide is significant, and we have to work around the digital barriers, such as poor network coverage, data costs, access to devices and computer literacy, to mention a few. This is exactly the type of challenge I am excited about, because when we get this right, it will be a massive win for all of us.”

Last year, private education group Curro openedCurro Online, in response to the impact of COVID-19 on schooling and the increased need for online learning.

Johannesburg-based high schoolIvy Academylast December introduced an online-only offering for grades 10 to 12.

Earlier this month, South African home-schooling provider Impaq announced it is launching a new online school, as demand for distance education continues to grow rapidly.

Yandiswa Xhakaza, UCT Online High School director and principal.
Yandiswa Xhakaza, UCT Online High School director and principal.

Weighing the pros and cons

Moira de Roche, non-executive director of the Institute of IT Professionals SA and chairperson of IFIP International Professional Practice Partnership, believesonline schools, after a relatively slow start, will grow at a steady pace.

“The possibility of online schooling has now been experienced by educators, and their acceptance will also grow.”

De Roche says while there are concerns about the social aspects of schooling, careful planning can helpto provide quality education for all.

“My only concern is that planning and learning design will be ignored, with materials simply placed online. Learning design must build on the strengths of the medium, which are to work at your own pace, in your own time, and repeat as necessary.

“The weaknesses of online learning [are that] there is little or no peer interaction, and no continuous presence of a teacher. The learning must be designed to mitigate the weaknesses.”

De Roche notes another issue is that not all learners have access to the internet or even a computer. However, the savings realised from not having to build and maintain large schools must be used to fix this, she states.

“Existing schools can be used as learning centres for those who don't have access at home. The perennial problem of overcrowded schools and learners often being forced to attend a school relatively far from home will decrease, and eventually not be an issue.

“It will be: learn where you are (at home) or at the nearest learning centre, which will be equipped with fast internet. Only administration staff will be needed at such a centre, because the learner will interact with their teachers in the same way as those who are studying from home. Learners will quickly become comfortable with using a computer. The curriculum must include digital skills, especially privacy and security.

“A further benefit of a well-designed system will be shared teachers. For example, an excellent maths teacher can deliver lectures (synchronously or asynchronously) to a large number of students.”