By Melodie Veldhuizen
Schools across South Africa closed their gates on 18 March 2020 after Pres Cyril Ramaphosa declared the Covid-19 outbreak a national disaster on Sunday, 15 March. Due to the extended lockdown measures repeatedly laid down by the government learners received home schooling for more than two months. On 8 June most matriculants returned to school. Waterkloof High School’s matriculants hesitatingly and with trepidation, but filled with expectation, entered the school grounds a week earlier, on 1 June, to tackle the last few months of their school careers. A matriculant from this school tells how she is experiencing her unique matric year and the accompanying challenges.
“As learners of Waterkloof High School we are very privileged in that a lot of effort and time is spent to make matric run as smoothly as possible; I therefore hope that my answers also apply to my fellow learners.”
What positive impact has self-study had during the lockdown?
“ I think self-study has taught me many positive life skills that I will also be able to apply as a student.
- I have learned how to plan my time.
- I have learned how to prioritise. Initially we were so swamped with work that I had to sit down and draw up a plan.
- I have learned how to think critically, how to evaluate information and to decide how to tackle tasks efficiently and productively.
- Through self-management I have learned to accept more responsibility for my work.
- I had to handle more than one task at a time and think creatively about what I was busy with.
- I had to work harder to solve problems myself where it would perhaps have been easier to ask a question in class. This gave me self-confidence in my own reasoning abilities.
We worked so hard during lockdown that I honestly just want to finish school now. The pressure placed on us to keep up and perform is immense and the teachers are working hard to make sure that we stay up to date and are ready for the examinations. We had school right through the lockdown and to go back to school physically just meant that we could continue with the previous week’s work.”
How do you experience being taught in a class situation again?
“While it was strange in the beginning to work on my own, it also became nice. I could lie in bed watching virtual presentations. Of course each subject had a distinctive virtual lecture and homework presentation and not all methods have the same impact or success. Apart from the school’s programme I also followed cloud school.
We are now working together in a group again with a teacher and his or her planning. Children who struggle to adapt to change find it rather difficult to shift from one to the other.
For myself it is better to be in a class for a subject such as mathematics where I can stop the teacher if, for instance, I am uncertain he or she is following in a sum. Online this was not always possible. I think many children could have hesitant and anxious when they could not understand the work and could not ask a teacher directly.”
How did it feel going back to school?
“I was exited and glad to see all my friends after such a long lockdown. Friends are very important to us as young people and we could only communicate electronically. It was bad but we went to a lot of trouble to have video conversations via the house-party app, where we could visit online in groups. In the beginning going back to school alone as a matric group gave us a bit of a ‘student’ feeling. Group interaction and participation in a classroom with teachers felt more adult and social.”
Do you feel safe in a school environment and what effect did social distancing have on your mutual communication?
“I feel fairly safe with all the rules in place making sure that a safe distance between people is maintained. For instance, only a certain number of people may be in a cloakroom and the school’s layout is such that rows flow along stairs where you may move up only and others where you may move down. But there will always be an underlying tension that one could get sick or that one of your teachers or friends could get sick.
We miss not being able to greet each other with a hug. Our generation is much more informal when it comes to greeting, and a hug is our way of saying hallo. In the beginning it was difficult for us, but social distancing has now become an integral part of our vocabulary, and physical distancing is expected of you all the time so that we have also learned to adapt to it wherever possible. Nowadays we say ‘hello’ to each other from a distance.
Most children are looking forward to their matric year with great expectations. Covid-19 has robbed you of many things. Please tell us more about these disappointments.
“We miss the last enjoyment. We miss a time in our lives where we could come together and have fun one last time, sit at the back in buses, have separate matric cloakrooms and feel a bit ‘above’ the rest of the children. We miss out on making many memories with our friends for the last time before many of us will perhaps never see each other again. It feels as if we are just sitting at home bolted down because we may not or cannot do anything else because of the lockdown.
We miss sport, cultural and leadership opportunities. Children who were looking forward to playing for the first team of a particular sport miss a lot. To many of them participation in sport or cultural events is their identity, and now it is just gone. As part of our learners council we had many ideas and plans, which will not be realised. Being a school leader in these times meant being an example of positivity and responsibility to others.
As far as the matric farewell is concerned our school, perhaps in contrast to others, remains hopeful. Our principal has not cancelled anything and is aiming at a date in December or January, although I don’t know if I really will want to have a matric farewell in my first year.
I know of many of my friends in othjer schools whose matric farewells have perhaps been cancelled. I think that if one cancels it would be a good thing to use the money for a project to help other people in distress, like a boys’ school in the Cape did.”
What effect does the lockdown and changed school situation have on your plans for the future?
“Examination papers that are only going to be marked in January are also going to affect our going to university. The long wait is going to be another frustration and at this stage we don’t even know how the ‘student first year’ is going to unfold. Will it be the same as now? Will you be able to go to a hostel? Will we perhaps have to do our classes online too?”
It is clear that this pandemic will have negative but also positive consequences for South Africa’s 2020 matriculants. May you look back at this unique matric year with a smile and proudly say: “We made it and came out stronger on the other side.”