UCT’s Schools Improvement Initiative (SII) has celebrated the fifth year of its partnership with Khayelitsha schools and the Western Cape Education Department. The community-based project provides a gateway into the university for promising Khayelitsha matriculants, and the project is yielding dividends: the township’s first cohort of graduates from UCT.The SII was launched in May 2012, “a multi-stakeholder approach to dealing with the challenge of poor performance by learners from township and rural schools”, said Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price. Price was speaking at the anniversary celebration, hosted at the Centre of Science and Technology (COSAT) secondary school in Khayelitsha on 26 August and attended by a broad range of stakeholders, donors and supporters.Through the SII programmes, UCT mobilises university-level resources to improve the quality of teaching and management in the three primary and two secondary schools with which it partners in Khayelitsha. Among the SII’s standout successes is its 100UP programme, which operates in all 20 secondary schools in the township and grooms matriculants for entry into UCT and other universities.The SII is UCT’s direct response to the education crisis in South Africa. The underachievement of learners, particularly in the Western Cape’s township schools, has seen meagre numbers of black students qualifying to study at UCT. The SII was formed to harness the university’s broader resources and create meaningful partnerships with education-related groupings, inside and outside of UCT.Its beginnings go back to Price’s inaugural address in 2008 when he identified several critical social issues he believed UCT should tackle. Among these was the crisis in public education.Without the means to tackle the problem on a large scale, the SII chose to focus on neighbouring Khayelitsha. With over 500 000 inhabitants, it’s the largest township in the Cape Metropole and has over 50 primary and secondary schools.“In 2013 only 29 students from the township’s 20 secondary schools were enrolled at UCT. Some schools in the township had never sent a matriculant to UCT,” Price noted. “Through this initiative, the university is committing itself to playing a more deliberate role in engaging practically, developmentally and critically with the challenges of schooling in this country.”In addition, the SII aligned with one of UCT’s five key strategic goals: to forge a new, inclusive identity that reflects a more representative profile of students and staff, and the cultures, values, heritages and epistemologies of the diversity of UCT’s staff and students.Addressing the guests at the anniversary event, director of the SII and the Schools Development Unit (SDU), and a former principal of COSAT, Dr Jonathan Clark said township schools faced “truly daunting” socioeconomic challenges.“The negative impacts of the socioeconomic circumstances of the communities these schools serve press heavily on every classroom,” he said.