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.
– Interview with Principal Sally Plessis (left) and Teacher Micaela Greeff (right), New Generation Academy
1. What first went through your mind when you heard the announcement of a national lockdown?
Teacher – Micaela Greeff: To be honest, when schools were closed, I thought it was going to be an early school holiday and that we would be going back soon. I left all my textbooks, my pot plant (which is probably dead by now), and everything else in my classroom.
Principal – Sally Plessis: I thought that the situation was very serious but that it’s going to be okay. We can go off for a little while longer and when we come back, we can just catch up.
2. What did you do when you realised that the lockdown is not going to be for a short while anymore?
Principal – Sally Plessis: I gave all my Grade 10, 11 and 12 learners the work schedule for the year, hard copies of the examination guidelines, and intervention notes. The learners have two sets of files, one for intervention work and one for SBA work. I gave them both files to take home. I don’t know why I did that, instinct, I guess. I wanted to prepare them for if we were going to be away from school for longer.
Teacher – Micaela Greeff: My focus was on the matrics. The focus is always on the matrics, but when I realised this was going on for so much longer, I knew we would have to attend to the rest of the grades as well. When lockdown started, I had already created a WhatsApp group with the learners and parents.
3. What role would you say ITSI’s technology plays during the lockdown?
“From the moment we had it in the school, I’ve taught using ITSI,” principal, Sally Plessis, says. Here’s why she has relied on ITSI’s technology:
- Bringing lessons to life: “I believe teaching takes place by hearing and seeing. The ITSI solution provides for both parts of my teaching,” Plessis says. Teacher, Micaela Greeff, agrees: “Having this great distance between us and the learners – the videos makes it a lot more visual for them and it helps that they can hear our voices in the videos”.
- Enriching lesson material: “During the lockdown, the Digital Lessons allowed me to do a certain amount of experiments with my learners,” Plessis says. With the learners being at home, Plessis can ask them to look at an experiment to see how it is done. Then she would go out of the experiment and continue teaching in the textbook. With the help of Digital Lessons, the learners are still able to see an experiment while studying from home. “I use the Digital Lessons to a great extent, and it has enriched my lessons,” Plessis adds.
- Personalising content: ITSI gives you the platform to play around with the content and options. “The content then becomes more diverse and interesting for the learners to grasp,” Greeff explains.
- Providing dedicated support – “Our dedicated support consultant from ITSI is always so helpful and accommodating,” Plessis says. “ITSI always helps our teachers, no matter what questions or requests they have,” she adds.
4. How do the teachers at your school experience the national lockdown?
Principal – Sally Plessis: Initially, the teachers made a concerted effort. But in hindsight, they realised that they should have made a bigger effort earlier on. They are now changing their methods of teaching to e-learning and they are beginning to realise it has a LOT of value. They are moving away from simply taking screenshots and through Learning Paths (an ITSI feature) they are beginning to engage with the ITSI program and its features a lot more.
Teacher – Micaela Greeff: I think as a teacher, you kind of feel forced because this is the situation that you are dealing with. It is what it is at the end of the day, so you either have a negative attitude and you leave your learners stranded, or you push yourself to the maximum to do the best for your learners.
5. What was the parents’ reaction to how the school is handling the situation?
Principal – Sally Plessis: We did a survey with our parents and 95% of our parents are extremely happy with what we are currently doing and specifically very happy with the ITSI platform. At the request of the parents, our learners are engaging with the ITSI platform even more.
We have involved the parents a lot more as well. The parents can see what is going on. The learner can’t just tell the parent that they did the work as the parent can see where they ought to be (with the help of ITSI analytics). Now that the parents are more involved, they contact us if there are any problems and the teachers can intervene much sooner.
6. How are your Grade 12 learners doing? In general, there is concern about the class of 2020.
Principal – Sally Plessis: The ITSI platform has enabled teachers to keep up with the programme and especially assessments when it comes to ATPs. It has also enabled us to work with our matriculants at a faster pace than we would have worked with them at school. Because at school you have scenarios of “keep quiet”, “do this”, etc. But with distance learning, we can move forward, and the learners tend to keep up. They can also now come back and watch the class again. They can look at the corresponding textbook right there in the ITSI app and understand where they might have missed something. Between 80 – 85% of our learners have stayed on track.
Teacher – Micaela Greeff: Because the learners are forced to work independently, they are forced to engage with the content. They are no longer being spoon-fed in the classroom and are accountable for their work. About 80% are working very hard, but there’s always a certain percentage not doing their part and falling behind. With the Learning Paths feature on ITSI, I don’t have to go back and make them catch up. They have the plan for the year and the videos they need to watch are right there in the path – so they need to work through it and catch up in their own time.
7. What about the learners who may not have access to technology? Do you have a specific plan of action to help them catch up on missed schoolwork?
Principal – Sally Plessis: We are an e-learning school, so when the learners join our school they must come with a tablet. In our case, it was an add-on to be an e-learning school. At least 80% of our learners have devices and have downloaded the material. Even though there are some data constraints, parents and learners plan and wait for “night surfer” mode to be able to download the latest work.
Teacher – Micaela Greeff: Some learners are unable to join all the online lessons due to data issues, so the parents must print the work that is sent to them and be the teacher at home. Learners would use the midnight data, which is cheaper, to complete the work as well, and since miEbooks works offline they are able to complete it the next day. They will then contact me to discuss what they got wrong. So, as a teacher my role has changed a little – I now have to make sure I support the learners and parents effectively while they learn by themselves at home.
8. Any advice you could give to other schools?
Principal – Sally Plessis: E-learning is the new learning method for the 21st century. It’s not the only one but it is going to play an even bigger part going forward. We must adapt to it. The sooner we, as teachers, embrace it, the sooner it will be better for all concerned. It’s just a new methodology of teaching. And at the rate at which we have to teach – you cannot go back to the old methodology. You are going to get so much more done with e-learning. If you are not engaging and using solutions like ITSI and e-learning, you are going to fall behind.
Teacher – Micaela Greeff: E-learning is the way to go. I don’t see education going back to how it was before. I think the entire coronavirus outbreak is forcing a lot of change to happen, especially in education. And honestly, it’s for the better.
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