Global Reach: Grantee Partners

United Through Sport


The education system in South Africa is failing. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report (2016), the quality of the South African Education system is ranked 137th among 139 nations, with the quality of its maths and science education ranked 139. While the official national high school pass rate in South Africa in 2017 was 75%, education experts such as Nicholas Spaull (whose blog on education is widely read and discussed in South Africa), note that the official pass rate masks the fact that teachers and schools let fewer (low performing) students reach and write the matric exam, which artificially inflates pass rates. According to Spaull, the real pass rate for 2017 is 55%. Many students drop out of school before grade 12 and South African learners are already performing significantly below international standards as early as primary school. For example, the 2016 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) found that 78% of South African Grade 4 students could not read for meaning in any language (vs. 4% in the United States), and the 2015 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed that 61% of Grade 5 learners could not add and subtract three or four digit whole numbers. Moreover, these statistics are averages and there is significant disparity in educational quality and student performance in poorer, black South African townships and better-resourced (predominantly white) suburban schools, as well as between provinces: the Eastern Cape (where UTS works) consistently has the lowest metric pass rates in the country (in 2017, it had a 65% pass rate, compared to 86% in Free State; 85% in Gauteng).


United Through Sport is a South African-based NGO working with youth from disadvantaged backgrounds using the power of sport to improve education, raise health awareness and build life skills. In the past few years, affiliate organizations in Argentina, the Caribbean and Thailand began using UTS’ methodology. UTS provides increased educational opportunities, using a tiered sport-for-development program to 1) improve emotional well-being and increase life skills (teamwork, leadership, decision-making and communication); 2) discuss critical issues such as HIV/AIDS and gender equality in a fun and interactive manner on the sports field; and 3) equip at-risk youth in Port Elizabeth with the knowledge and skills to continue schooling, succeed in secondary school and go on to tertiary education or secure employment. UTS is one of few sports-focused co-ed organizations in South Africa that successfully engages girls and young women, maintaining a 50:50 gender split. UTS has strong, steady leadership, with Executive Director, Nick Mould, going into his 15th year. The majority of staff is female, including its first female General Manager under the age of 30, Nosipho (Spakes) Xapile.

Current Grant:

EMpower’s 6th grant to United Through Sport will provide negotiated general support to support institutional objectives including improving the organization’s fundraising capacity and strengthening its argument for larger scale-up of its in-school, sport-based life skills and health program (MPP) through establishing a broader body of evidence regarding the program’s impact and better aligning its content with the Department of Education’s Life Orientation curriculum. UTS’ work equips middle school students from townships in the Eastern Cape with important life skills, knowledge on critical issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention and gender equality, and study skills to continue in schooling, succeed in secondary school and go on to lead productive lives.

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