Intervention Programme (IP)

Aim of the Programme

The Intervention Programme (IP) is a foundational provision programme in the Faculty of Health Sciences that offers academic support to students who experience academic challenges in their first semester of study. The programme offers learning opportunities for academic literacy, quantitative literacy and foundational concepts in some of the profession-specific and basic sciences. It was designed address the imbalances of the past and respond to transformation agenda of the faculty of widening access and participation and improving retention and throughput of students, particularly those from traditionally underserved student population. It was introduced in the MBChB programme in 2002 and implemented in 2009 in the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences

Unlike traditional foundation programmes, IP starts in mid-year and not upon registration. Students are not pre-selected into the programme upon admission to the university. All incoming first year students are admitted to the standard curriculum and only those who are not successful after their first semester of study are admitted into IP.


The Intervention Programme was conceptualised by drawing on theories pertaining to socio-cultural factors in education. Vygotsky’s theory believes in the social construction of knowledge as opposed to learning being solely an internal process. According to Vygotsky's theory, the learner requires active guidance; his/her learning activity must be directed by a cultural regulator. Central to Vygotsky’s theory is the notion that the individual’s interaction with objects in the world is mediated by cultural artefacts: signs, symbols and tools. In other words, learners are shaped by the cultural artefacts they are exposed to during their early years. The degree to which these artefacts differ from tools used at tertiary institutions, impact on learning, and can cause learning barriers, if no proper guided assistance is offered.

A key feature of the model is the selection process and specifically, an opportunity to determine what students bring with them in order to establish their preparedness for higher education studies. The designers of the programme draws primarily on the work of Vygotsky (1978) who suggested that an assessment mode of teach-test-teach within a course, rather than an assessment mode of testing for placement upon admission, might be a valid method of determining students’ developmental levels of cognitive preparedness. By means of a process of collecting data from multiple sources at multiple stages during the first semester, a profile of a student’s academic successes and challenges is developed.

The activities in the Intervention Programme focus on developing students’ academic strengths, as opposed to focussing on “deficits”. Semester one thus serves as a “diagnostic” semester and the information collected during this period is used to guide learning activities in the Intervention Programme. Semester one thus serves as a “diagnostic” semester and the information collected during this period is used to guide learning activities in the Intervention Programme. Students, who fail either one of their profession-specific courses or any of the pre-clinical service courses, are eligible for IP.


The programme strives to create a safe environment where students can develop and refine skills and knowledge at a slower pace in order to continue with their studies. This is done by allowing for opportunities to identify and correct the many reasons for underachievement, promoting more effective learning for subsequent years; and aspiring to improve self-confidence in order to contribute to students’ academic and personal growth and development. It aims at familiarising students with the modes of learning that will be required of them, as well as the style of instruction they will encounter in the rest of their studies. Learning activities in the programme are designed to enhance students’ capacity to transfer skills and knowledge between different aspects and components of their studies. Regular formative assessment provides students with feedback on their progress.

Teaching and learning in the first semester of IP is designed to allow the students to ‘look back’ at course content of mainstream semester 1, learning material that was covered in first semester is revisited with particular focus on difficult concepts. Characteristics of the learning tasks in IP are as follows:

Semester 1 of IP ‘Looks back’ to:

  • Main concepts of the courses in mainstream semester 1
  • Focuses on professional and disciplinary building blocks and core concepts
  • Spend more time on the concepts by providing more and varieties learning opportunities at slower pace
  • Employs small group learning promote active learning
  • Identifies and address study skills gaps

During the second semester of IP, students ‘looks forward’ to core concepts and building blocks of courses that will be offered in mainstream semester two of the first year. Here students are introduced to new material to give them the opportunity to experience some of the key concepts that they will encounter in the mainstream.

Semester 2 of IP ‘Looks forward’ to:

  • Future core concepts – mainstream semester 2 courses and prepares the re-entry into the standard curriculum
  • Future thinking & reasoning strategies –
  • Prepares the students second semester of first year mainstream and beyond

The Intervention Programme differs from the mainstream course in that all learning and teaching activities occur in small groups, and lecturers in the programme provide students with constant individual feedback on their progress. Students’ understanding of the basic concepts and terminology are strengthened by revisiting material covered in semester one, and scaffolded tutorials are used as the central learning vehicle. Academic skills are constantly reinforced within an appropriate academic context to emphasize relevance and applicability. The deliberate incorporation of academic skills in the Intervention Programme is to enhance students’ capacity to transfer skills and knowledge between different components of their studies, to promote language and communication proficiency and to develop skills to meet academic demands of future years.

Reference list

Vygotsky, L. 1978. Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.