For millions of South African students, the academic year has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To keep students learning, teachers have had to think creatively and use innovative platforms such as online learning apps, video calling and presentations, as well as instant messaging to engage with students. As with the students, the teachers have needed to upskill themselves by learning new technology.
“Digital learning taught me new skills and I’m able to implement them in everyday teaching. It helps that we are all in this together and the fact that the kids are also learning with us makes it a little bit easier,” said Alexandra-Jane Wright, a Grade 5 teacher at St Martin’s, one of South Africa’s leading private schools in the south of Johannesburg.
Parents and guardians have also been on a learning journey and may be feeling overwhelmed teaching their children from home, and also learning new skills and new levels of patience. Here are important insights from teachers at St Martin’s, to help parents, guardians and students make homeschooling easier.
Communication is key
Good and regular communication between teachers, parents and students is vital to closing the distance. Keeping in touch is also a good way to maintain human connections and to remind you that you are not alone. Class chat groups are also an effective way of sharing learning methods and troubleshooting with other parents.
Planning a schedule can make a big difference and be an effective way of keeping students engaged and in a routine. Print or write out timetables so that it is easily visible to keep track of daily tasks. This will help your child stay on top of their work and their deadlines.
Include lots of breaks
Students are used to the school routine. A similar structure should, as much as possible, be adhered to while learning from home, and should include regular breaks. This will give students time to rest their eyes and take their minds off their studies for a while, and come back to their work re-energised.
The teachers at St Martin’s included physical education challenges in their home learning curriculum that tested ball skills, hand-eye coordination and some even tested their sewing skills.
Lockdown is a very stressful time, and everything won’t always be perfect. Be mindful of what works for your child and give them space to figure things out for themselves. If they need assistance, be there, listen to them, encourage them, and find a solution together.
Learning from home is lonely, and it’s important for students to still feel connected to their school, classmates, and teachers during this time. St Martin’s holistic approach also focuses on the personal, mental, and emotional well-being of students. During lockdown, the St Martin’s teachers started the day with a check-in and even conducted weekly online assemblies with the headmaster.
“It’s important to connect with the students, especially with the Matriculants who are finding this time very difficult,” said Thomas Hagspihl, Headmaster of St Martin’s about their digital assemblies. “Some students are grieving as they realise they’re never going to play netball at school again,” Hagspihl added. “We’re not just focused on academics, but also the well-being of every student. That’s what we do well as a school.”
Parents have praised the teachers at St Martin’s commitment and their extra effort in supporting their students. “Definitely proud to be associated with a school whose teachers keep raising the bar on education during these unprecedented times,” said Prisha Naicker, a St Martin’s parent.
Homeschooling can be overwhelming and has forced teachers, students, and parents to step out of their comfort zones. Learning from home will not always be easy or perfect, but you can do it. Stay connected to teachers and other parents and take it one day at a time. This pandemic will pass, and when it does, students and teachers will reunite in the classroom.