TWO YEARS OF COVID: Lockdown changed the face of education but learners rose to the occasion

Picture: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Picture: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

Published Mar 29, 2022


The commencement of the National Lockdown in South Africa in March 2020 propelled education as a sector into spaces that were either not planned, anticipated or possibly at the initial stages of planning.

For most schools that are governed by Basic Education, this was unchartered waters. More affluent schools that were not governed by Basic Education were able to make more informed decisions to facilitate the progress of teaching and learning in their institutions. For many private schools, decisions were made quickly to ensure that teaching and learning were not suspended.

For Higher Education, in some institutions, there was talk and discussions about navigating this world of online or blended learning pre-lockdown.

The commencement of the lockdown in South Africa propelled the quick intervention of those plans. So, the birth of the lockdown widened the existing gap even further between rich and poor.

This further widening gap can be classified as a lesson in itself. The lockdown for more affluent schools saw a shift from physical and contact learning to online learning. The teaching and learning with the teacher was not suspended.

For most schools in this country, the suspension of physical contact learning indicated the end of teaching and learning with a teacher facilitating the learning process. Parents were asked to pick up booklets/programmes of work from the school, and the parent or caregiver had to assist the learner/s to complete the set tasks.

Some parents felt very overwhelmed because they were not skilled to teach their children for large parts of the day. Some voiced their incompetence, and others were multi-tasking from morning to evening with their own work and home demands.

As the lockdown progressed and some teachers and parents were informed of the online learning taking place in private schools, they asked their schools to follow suit for the sake of their children. Some schools took the initiative and provided strategies and instructions on a WhatsApp video platform.

The lesson that can be learned from this huge discrepancy is that blended learning cannot be totally excluded from the teaching and learning process. The teacher does not have to be the only resource for twenty-first-century children. The blended learning approach can be gradually implemented as the learners progress from phase to phase.

Departmental heads and management within schools should strategise on the content/subjects and its’ percentage that can facilitate implementation of blended learning within the phases, the advantages to the learners and then inform parents and other stakeholders of its’ gradual implementation.

One of the attributes of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) curriculum is life-long learning. How can life-long learning be initiated if a learner is only relying on a teacher or parent for formal instruction?

While the lockdown highlighted our shortfalls and what we still need to achieve in education, it also highlighted the agency that was demonstrated by the children. The huge demands placed on parents between work and home created an opportunity for learners to take charge of their own learning.

Many parents did not expect their children to rise to the occasion and take the initiative. This acquisition of this skill within a lockdown that was riddled with much fear and anxiety is magnificent. The resilience that was demonstrated by scholars and students was remarkable. They were able to make the shift to either online learning or task completion. They were able to remain steadfast at such difficult times.

This resilience was also demonstrated by teachers and managers too. Some teachers taught a full-day online with no childcare for their own children. Their kids and family members would come into the online spaces, but they persevered so that teaching and learning was not suspended.

The lockdown has demonstrated to academics, teachers, managers, parents and other stakeholders that the face of education has changed. It highlighted the work that we have achieved against what needs to be still achieved. It has definitely proved that blended learning is not a ‘lockdown phenomena’ but an education phenomena.

We need to embrace blended learning for the future and progression of our scholars and students. We need to reassure educators that these platforms do not replace the phenomenal work that is achieved in the classrooms but enhance it by creating a relational understanding that it is comprehensible.

The ease of restrictions in South Africa should not propel our managers to revert to normal. I think that this is an opportunity for managers to take stock of the alternatives utilised during the lockdown. They need to critically analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the decisions and choices made in the lockdown, and this analysis will instil hope for the future. The revert to normal in the name of ‘old-time sake’ will render our experiences and lessons learnt futile.

Cheslynn van der Merwe is a former primary school teacher. She is now a Lecturer at the Faculty of Education at Stadio Holdings.