By USISIPHO BATYI, LINDANI DONYELI and ROD AMNER
With most learners are set to return to classrooms as late as August, WhatsApp groups and online lessons will continue to be a lifeline for thousands of Makhanda learners under the COVID-19 lockdown.
But, with little or no online access, children from poorly resourced schools have already spent two months with no school at all.
This week marks the second month that schools across the country have been closed. While several schools have stepped up with online lessons and resources, the sudden national lockdown and its subsequent extension left many of Makhanda’s non-fee-paying schools unprepared.
Principals say the effects of interrupted schooling are most severe for disadvantaged learners. Makana Primary principal, Nkhosi Williams said, “We never thought the lockdown would cause us not to do anything.
“We don’t have all the parents’ telephone numbers, therefore we have no communication with our learners.”
Many of the school’s learners come from the informal settlements of eNkanini and Transit Camp.
“These children have spent two months without school material or educational activities. They’ve had no form of learning at all,” Williams said.
“It will take a miracle for us to finish the curriculum.”
Ntsika Secondary School principal, Madeleine Schoeman, says the school has done its best to reach their learners via the *Grades 8-12 Facebook and WhatsApp groups.
“We are using every means to help them wherever we can,” Schoeman said. “We buy data for them and students borrow each other’s phones.
“However, it’s not ideal because the work is not being assessed. This makes it extremely difficult for us to check the progress of each learner.”
Owam Pheli, Grade 8 learner at Nombulelo Public School, says she has received learning resources from her teacher via WhatsApp and she has submitted work for assessment.
“I feel great about it. I have not experienced any problems,” she said.
Owam’s mother, Lumka Pheli, said her daughter does not have a phone. “So, she is using mine – sometimes, she has to go to her friends to be updated because I am struggling to get data. I do not work.”
Thembela Dayimani is the mother of two Andrew Moyakhe Primary learners. “The kids are not receiving any work from school and I feel bad about this.
“I want the kids to go back to school as education is the key,” she said.
Asenathi Mthwalo, a Grade 11 learner at Nathaniel Nyaluza High, said she had also not received any work from the school. “At Nyaluza, it is only Grade 12s who are receiving work.”
While older learners are more likely to adapt to online learning, a relatively small proportion of our town’s high school learners have been able to access the excellent resources available.
One Victoria Girls’ High School Grade 12 learner said, “My whole grade 12 class is obviously in a privileged situation because we have access to good textbooks, communicative teachers and resources being sent to us.
“On the other hand, a lot of people I know have been really struggling with the whole data thing, especially with emails. It seems like most have access to data now for WhatsApp, either from their parents or from a couple of teachers who have been helping out. So, the teachers have been sending work on WhatsApp groups.
“Those of us who have WiFi at home have a significant advantage in this situation as well. We all get that this is a huge privilege but at the same time, it’s been an extremely stressful time.
“I know that most of my grade is far behind in most subjects. We’ve been sent a huge amount of work and assignments which is to be expected for matric, but I’ve found that it also takes a lot longer to try and teach yourself a subject. I feel like there are not enough hours in the day for all the work being sent to us. It’s also really distracting being at home because there is no structure to work within. I know most of my friends have destroyed their sleep schedules.
“Being in matric is supposed to be hard. You’re supposed to learn to work somewhat independently and time-manage effectively. But the stress of school combined with the stress of a global pandemic is a bit excessive. The kids in apocalypse movies never keep up with their school work and I can see why,” she said.
Gadra Education Manager Ashley Westaway said that among no-fee-paying schools, the impact would vary.
“For example schools that are linked with the Rhodes University mentoring programmes for grade 12s will perform much better than schools without such support,” Westaway said.
The mentoring programme partnered by Gadra matric school and Rhodes University has given data to grade 12s and university student mentors conduct virtual learning sessions to help Grade 12s catch up with the curriculum.
From 2020 to 2019, the town’s matric results dropped from 78.1% to 75.9%, with non-fee-paying schools making up the bulk of the lower-end results. It seems likely that once again, learners at the town’s poorest schools have the least chance of overcoming the additional challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown their way.
* Article corrected to say ‘Grades 8-12’ (originally said Grades 10-12).