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The COVID-19 pandemic has caught everyone off guard. This while the national lockdown presents new challenges to schools, principals, teachers, learners and parents.
We would like to inspire and motivate you with our new series “Spotlight on…” where we will look at how schools face these challenges and what tools they use to achieve success.
We were lucky, in a sense. As a private school, our school calendar works a bit differently to the average government school in the sense that the school was supposed to close on the Friday when the national lockdown started. We closed the school on Wednesday, so we only lost two days. We would have had a three-week holiday until the Easter weekend in any case.
So, we were relatively on course. Then the lockdown came and what it actually implied was that the three-week holiday the teachers were looking forward to was in question. They basically had a couple of days to move before they had to stay at home.
We made sure that on the first Friday of lockdown we communicated to the parents that school would continue directly after the Easter weekend and that it would then be online. The teachers then had enough time to prepare.
However, what put us in a privileged position was that we started making use of ITSI’s online system many years ago. Our matrics grew up with e-learning from Grade 8, with textbooks in an electronic format and with tablets. Few realised that one of the greatest advantages is that every child is used to the electronic platform and to receiving content electronically.
We can still use the ITSI platform like always, where the teachers can pass on information to the learners through the platform. It’s one of the biggest challenges when I speak to my colleagues who aren’t on ITSI yet. They suddenly had to go on Google Classroom, but that means that each child needed an email address, so there was a lot of work that had to happen to get that right. Some work on Microsoft Teams, but even for that you need to do a lot of prep work.
What put us in a good position during this period is that the ITSI platform is in place and we can regularly see if the learners are online. It also helps a lot that ITSI’s support team still contacts us weekly to see if everything is in order and whether they can help with anything. They help or give advice where needed. For example, if there was a small problem with the server at the school, our IT team can work with ITSI’s team to make sure that the problem is resolved quickly, and that the server works.
It’s great that ITSI continues to deliver excellent service.
As with everything in life, the teachers have mixed feelings. ITSI and everything else (like Google Classroom) that we have in place prepared us to teach online. However, they do miss the children and their colleagues. We teach primarily to make a difference in children’s lives. Now we mainly teach, and education is more difficult through a computer or tablet screen.
The parents are very supportive in general and full of praise for all the effort our teachers make in the academic field. The parents are concerned about their children’s health and safety regarding the virus, but also about everything that can’t take place and what their children are currently missing out on, for example, sport, cultural activities, opportunities to socialise, etc.
Our learners write their final examinations through the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) and our LO department received permission from the board to do matric evaluation themselves.
The IEB is also waiting for the country’s latest plan, but it’s obvious that the work that’s assessed by schools (which counts for 25% of the final mark) will be reduced. Fewer tests and/or assignments will have to be in the learners’ portfolios in 2020. The June examinations for Grade 12s at government schools are already cancelled to offer more teaching time. The full curriculum will still be covered during the examinations.
I think what’s difficult for learners at this stage is the fact that they miss sport and cultural activities. They’re all feeling “FOMO (fear of missing out)”. I think that missing the social and sport gatherings that they would have attended is the biggest void they’re currently feeling.
My greatest advice during this period, if I can put it simply, is “less is more”. Our teachers now have to learn how to give their classes as effectively as possible without using too much time, for example, a 10-minute lesson on video will be equal to a normal lesson that’s 40 minutes long. If one considers that now there is no time spent on changing classes or completing an attendance register – one can accept that not much lesson time is lost if the lessons are shortened for distance education.
One must remember that the learners have also been plunged into this strangeness and that they might also find it overwhelming. Without overwhelming them too much, I think the “less is more” principle remains the better approach during this time.
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