TWO YEARS OF COVID: Despite the hiccups, the Education sector has scored some wins

Picture: Chris Collingridge

Picture: Chris Collingridge

Published Mar 28, 2022


It is hard to believe that two years have passed since we heard for the first time in our lifetime the term ‘lockdown’. No one knew what to expect, how long it would last or what impact it would have on our everyday lives. We are accustomed to working with our colleagues, going to school with our friends, socialising with family and friends, too. Now we had none of the above, and keeping the social distance was of paramount importance.

Every single facet of our lives was impacted, and our schools were not immune. The uncertainty of the behaviour of Covid 19 put the education sector into a tailspin. When the President announced the hard lock down in March 2020, what the schooling sector knew was that schools would be closed. For how long, no one knew.

We did not know that the advent of the pandemic would change teaching and learning as we knew it. Our teachers and learners were literally thrown into the deep end with online learning.

We must admire our schools that did not sit back and wait for the lockdown to be lifted. Instead, necessity became the mother of invention. Schools found a way to communicate with their learners. They established Google Classrooms or WhatsApp groups and, for the very first time, taught their learners from a distance, from behind a computer monitor or smartphone. Teachers had to teach, and learners had to learn. They had to get the show on the road.

The pandemic tested our ability to adjust and catch up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Our teachers and learners rose to the occasion and outperformed even their expectations.

The pandemic also brought into focus and highlighted the discrepancies in the schooling system. It exposed the rural schools that continue to struggle with unreliable or no water supply, infrastructure challenges and overcrowded classrooms.

This scenario could also surprisingly be found in some urban schools. The ‘social distance’ a buzz term, yet our schools were not able to do this because of the general overcrowding in classrooms.

The department had to quickly fix the sanitation and water issues to make schools Covid compliant.

To address the social distance requirement, schools had to implement a rotational timetable. Only 50% of learners were in school on any given day. Here, too, the schools that had the space were allowed to bring back 100% learners, whereas the poorer, disadvantaged schools could not afford this. Therefore, sadly these learners were either at home or hanging around in the communities for half the week.

This, unfortunately, exposed our learners to criminal elements developing a poor work ethic, and we saw unprecedented large numbers of pregnant schoolgirls, as young as 10 years old.

Due to the limited teaching time completing the curriculum became a challenge. Teachers, learners, and parents, particularly the grade 12 learners, felt the stain and anxiety. The grade 12 year is generally one that is stressful, but with the onset of the pandemic and accompanying uncertainty created greater stress for these learners.

It was truly an unfair situation as no one could provide comfort, support or guidance as not one knew how this would all end. Who would have thought two years down the line we are still grappling with Covid? Every day, we learn and unlearn about this virus.

The real drama started when learners and teachers had to resume face to face teaching and learning. It was the grade 12 and grade 7 learners that had to return first. Parents and teachers were anxious, and there was much resistance.

Educators who had comorbidities were granted the concession to work from home. This resulted in staff shortages in some schools. Learners had to adjust to mask-wearing for long periods of time. Teachers had to teach with masks on. This compromised their audibility.

Schools closed for up to a week at a time when a Covid positive case was confirmed. This resulted in more learning losses. No one thought of cordoning off the ‘infected’ area because, at the time, no one knew better. Instead, the whole school was closed and deep cleaned.

How far we have come, we now have learnt to live with the virus with minimal interruptions. The Naptosa offices no longer get a frenzy of calls when infections are detected in schools. Instead, schools have learned to live with Covid. Our young 5-year-olds can teach the adults a thing or two about mask-wearing and hand-washing.

Honestly, the pandemic has taught us the meaning of life and what matters most. It taught us to adapt or die. It has changed the way we live and work forever. We now work, teach, learn, and shop online. It forced us to catch up or lose out.

At this point, although we have gained much of our freedom back, we continue to benefit from the past experiences. We still meet over Zoom, shop online and are more hygienic than ever. This is the legacy of the pandemic. More to celebrate than to lament. Although the loss of life is regrettable, it has made us resilient and tough.

Thirona Moodley is the Naptosa CEO for KZN