South African students sign up for online high school

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Robert Paddock, founder and CEO of Valenture Institute.
Robert Paddock, founder and CEO of Valenture Institute.

Global, private online educational institution, Valenture Institute, has introduced its online high school curriculum in SA, receiving an unexpectedly high number of registrations for its first cohort.

Launched in September 2019 across three regions – the UK, Boston and SA – Valenture Institute is a globally recognised private institution, offering learners from grade eight to 12 an online-based curriculum recognised by universities worldwide.

It offers four levels of qualifications: Junior High (equivalent of grades eight and nine); the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE, equivalent of grades 10 and 11); International Advanced Subsidiary (AS)-Levels (equivalent of grade 12); and International A-Levels (post-grade 12).

While the  International GCSE is an English language-based syllabus developed by the University of Cambridge International Examinations, it is similar to the GCSE and its subjects are recognised in the calculation of admission points at South African universities, according to the company. The AS-Levels are regarded as a similar level to a matric in SA.

The London and Cape Town-based institution says its mission is to evolve what it means to “go” to school by transforming physical limitations into digital opportunities. Daily live classes are taught by expert teachers online, in real-time, with the curriculum focusing on subjects ranging from Maths, English, Business and Physics, to Chemistry, Biology and Geography.

The syllabus is accredited by Pearson Edexcel, a multinational education and examination body owned by Pearson.

“We chose the British accreditation system because it’s one of the best recognised by universities around the world and by employers,” explains Robert Paddock, founder and CEO of Valenture Institute.

“While we target students across the globe, we’ve had an interesting response from South African students, with 80% of overall registrations consisting of local learners, and  roughly 50 students per level.”

Valenture Institute is led by Paddock, who is co-founder of online short courses education company GetSmarter, and an advisor to a number of online education companies in Africa and abroad.

Valenture Institute’s chancellor and board advisor, Rob Lue, is faculty director of HarvardX and Harvard Ed Portal at Harvard University, while the institute’s founding investor, Samer Salty, is founder and managing partner of Zouk Capital, a UK-based private equity fund manager.

IGSCE and AS-Levels are considered to be of higher quality than SA’s National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement curriculum, allowing students to finish high school in four-and-a-half years, as opposed to five, in which they would graduate with the international AS-Levels, notes Paddock.

Students work in tutorial groups of around 15 to 25 students, facilitated by dedicated teachers, and they also review their progress online ahead of a monthly three-way check-in with their mentor and their parents.

The tuition fees start from R60 000 per annum, depending on the number of subjects registered for.

“While we are open to  students across the board, we have received an interesting response from South African students who looking for something different, this includes young professional athletes, those who have been bullied in traditional schools, pupils with disabilities, to those whose parents who are about to relocate, and those who are home-schooled,” notes Paddock.

Purpose-built learning model

Local competitors of Valenture Institute include online learning institutions Cambrilearn, Teneo and Impaq.

Commenting on Valenture’s approach to learning, Moira de Roche, director at the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa and learning specialist, says despite obvious concerns, the Valenture Institute offers a practical and viable way of learning because it is purpose-built.

“All e-learning ventures to date by the Department of Basic Education have tried to fit classroom training into an e-learning paradigm. For e-learning to work, it must be designed with the delivery method in mind.Valenture has the same approach as any online learning institution; however, there are both pros and cons,” comments Roche.

The pros include the ability to learn at your own pace, to some extent in your own time, do refresher learning as required and learn where you are, rather than using a vast amount of time and energy travelling to school, she adds.

“The usual cons are: tutor and peer support may not apply here, as this is adequately provided. The only possible consideration is keeping the learners engaged and motivated, but with good content, challenges and teacher engagement, this will not be a problem.”

The challenge with most online learning platforms, according to Paddock, is that they tend to happen in a correspondence style, using pre-recorded material and students are expected to have the discipline to apply themselves, which is not always achievable.

“We realise that technology is an enabler, not the solution. Students at Valenture are supported throughout their academic experience by expert teachers, tutors and mentors. Live classes per subject are taught by expert teachers and each student is allocated a mentor for the duration of their studies with us, who provides one-on-one support to help students keep their learning and holistic development on track through bi-weekly calls.”

South African universities are increasingly offering teaching qualifications online; for example. Two Oceans Graduate Institute, where teachers are trained online, which is a step in the right direction, De Roche points out.

“This means teachers will have a much better feel for e-learning and will also be capable of teaching in the traditional way.”

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