Rhodes University Logo
Rhodes > Community Engagement > VC's Education Initiative > Virtual Learning

Virtual Learning

The project is implemented at three high schools, namely Mary Waters (Grade 8&9), Ntsika (Grade 8&9) and Nombulelo (Grade 9). This is an extension of the 2016 programme which only operated in Grade 8 at Ntsika and Mary Waters. The three schools have been selected because they have committed management and perform relatively well when compared to the other under-resourced high schools in Grahamstown. However, thisndoes not change the fact that the educational outcomes achieved at Mary Waters, Ntsika and
Nombulelo are significantly inferior to those produced at the three former white schools in Grahamstown. The VC’s Initiative is seeking to facilitate the rise of these ‘core’ schools, to the point where there are negligible differences in performance between them and Graeme,
Victoria Girls and PJ Olivier. Two of the key measures in this regard are pass rates and the quality of passes. At Grade 12 level, the former white schools invariably achieve a pass rate close to 100% and Bachelor pass rate in the vicinity of 80%. This compares with an overall pass rate at Mary Waters and Ntsika in the vicinity of 70% and a Bachelors rate of less than 20% (in 2015). Underlying this weakness are a host of problems, including under-staffing, gaps in teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical skills, inadequate educational resources and weak institutional culture.

This project aims to tackle these problems by targeting ‘foundational’ knowledge in the two subjects of English and Mathematics. That is, it will not engage in the ‘FET phase’ of learning (Grades 10 -12), but rather in the GET phase (Grades 8, 9). It is necessary to understand the specific significance of English and Mathematics. There are specific language challenges at the two schools. At Mary Waters, learners whose mother tongue is isiXhosa are required to select English as their Home Language and Afrikaans as their First Additional Language. As far as ‘Home Language’ is concerned, there are two key realities. First, the pass mark is 40% (as opposed to 30%, like it is for other subjects). Second, Rhodes University requires a minimal of 50% for English as a perquisite for considering any candidate. It does not make a distinction in this regard, between English Home Language and English First Additional Language. Furthermore, in order to obtain a Bachelor level pass, one needs four designated subjects over 50%. The quest, therefore, is to maximize the number and percentage of Bachelor passes at Mary Waters is closely linked to the need to ensure that as many learners as possible obtained
more than 50% for English Home language. At Ntsika and Nombulelo, the problem is not the English FAL results, rather it is the generally low levels of competence in English. The issue to understand is that 40% or 50% for that matter in English FAL may seem like an acceptable result on the surface, it represents a very low level of competence in the language. This constitutes a major constraint to good academic performance because English is the prescribed Language of Learning and Teaching (LoLT). That is to say, Ntsika and Nombulelo learners are supposed to be taught in English and they are required to write their examinations (in all subjects other than isiXhosa) in English. Because of their poor English competence, they struggle in these subjects, especially vocabulary-heavy content subjects such as Life Sciences and Geography.

The three schools share a common set of problems pertaining to Mathematics. These include
the following:

  • The numeracy competence that Grade 8 Learners come into high school with is poor.
  • The Teaching of Mathematics in Grades 8 and 9 is inadequate to enable the learners to catch up.
  • Consequently, at the end of Grade 9, most learners have no option but to select
  • Mathematics Literacy for their FET years. The proportion of learners doing Maths Lit is
  • very high and conversely the proportion doing Mathematics is very low. For example, of the 143 learners in Grade 12 at Mary Waters in 2015, 133 (93%) are doing Maths Lit and only the remaining 10 learners (7%) are doing Mathematics.
  • Most of the few learners taking Mathematics obtain less than 40% for the subject, thereby
  • undermining their chances of accessing any Bachelor Degree course.
  • The Maths Literacy results at Grade 12 level are poor in all Grahamstown under-resourced schools, including Mary Waters, Ntsika and Nombulelo.
  • The Nombulelo Principal has highlighted a particular shortage of Maths teachers for Grade 8 in 2017 at her School.


Last Modified :Tue, 17 Jan 2017 15:04:08 SAST