South Africa: Being in matric is not easy; doing it in the middle of a pandemic is not for the fainthearted

South Africa/ July 17, 2020/By Ayanda Mthethwa/Source: https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/

For many South African learners, the final year of high school is a monumental life event, but with the advent of coronavirus, some matric learners have to deal with the added pressures of being at school amid a global health pandemic as well as the anxieties of an uncertain future and a disrupted school life.

For 17-year-old Abahle Sithole, it’s the little things that she misses about having a normal school life that make school less enjoyable now that there is Covid-19.

“I miss hugging my friends and our long chats that do not involve us having to keep a safe distance,” she told Daily Maverick during a telephonic conversation.

Sithole, a Grade 12 learner from Daveyton, Gauteng, used to spend her lunch breaks at school writing notes and revisiting challenging questions she might have encountered during class with the assistance of her friends and peers.

But since she returned to school on 8 June, and with Covid-19 regulations in place, her home has become the only place where she can study outside of the school premises.

“The one hour I’d spend studying during break time made a huge difference because sometimes you can’t do that at home. We are not even allowed to remain behind after school for our study group sessions; there is no teacher around at that time or anyone to monitor us,” she said.

Educational psychologist and secretariat of the Society for Educational Psychology of South Africa, Kemoneilwe Metsing, said matric students are experiencing pressure that no one can understand.

“No one has ever been in their situation. A final year in high school is supposed to be fun, exciting, looking forward to the matric dance, the last sports scroll [achievement], that last sports game. These are all that these kids should be thinking about.”

She points out that their learning patterns have had to change drastically, accompanied by “the pressure to perform well, not to disappoint their parents and themselves, [which is] another added anxiety, fear and pressure on to themselves”.

In efforts to make up for teaching time lost during the school closures in March, the department of basic education cancelled the matric June examinations and pushed the final examinations to November. They are expected to run into December.

Phineas Khoza, another Grade 12 learner from Gauteng, can attest to this pressure.

“We don’t spend enough time with teachers anymore. It’s worse when someone at school tests positive for the virus, there is added pressure because I have to rely on myself for everything,” he said.

His school has closed three times since it reopened on 8 June after Covid-19 infections were detected. When he spoke to Daily Maverick on 15 July, Khoza was at home because of another disruption resulting from a positive case, and no indication of when he will return to school.

Khoza is apprehensive about how his results, the key to his university entry to study law, will be affected at the end of the school year.

“The disruptions slow down one’s learning pattern. I study at home, but having a teacher to guide me lessens the burden. It keeps me up at night not knowing what my marks will look like after all of this.”

And, as Metsing explains, “Not all learners learn through the same mode. Some learners who are experiencing barriers to learning have succeeded in their studies because of lip-reading… with teachers wearing masks it becomes impossible for them to understand or hear what teachers are saying.”

Education expert Professor Nicky Roberts says there are options that the department of basic education can explore for pupils whose learning is disrupted during this period.

“We could still move the final exams to later or use Grade 11 results as entry marks into university. There is a second-chance matric programme: if you fail matric, you can write again in May or June. So, we can have another round of matric exams halfway through to next year for those who have been significantly disrupted.”

She adds that Covid-19 has further widened the gap between no-fee and fee-paying schools.

With mounting calls from unions to have schools closed again ahead of SA’s Covid-19 peak, there are concerns about the detrimental effects a reclosure might have on children’s schooling and other equally important benefits such as the school nutrition programme.

No-fee paying schools cannot afford to migrate to teaching and learning online as many fee-paying schools have done to mitigate the disruptions.

“Some students are able to move to online tuition and those are often from fee-paying schools. All no-fee paying schools are in the same boat. In terms of university entrance, everybody who is impacted is from no-fee paying schools,” Roberts said.

Unesco’s 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report titled Inclusion and Education: All means All notes that Covid-19 will deepen inequalities in the global education system.

“The current crisis will further perpetuate these differences in forms of exclusion. With more than 90% of the global student population affected by Covid-19 related school closures, the world is in the throes of the most unprecedented disruption in the history of education,” Unesco director-general Audrey Azoulay said in her foreword.

“Social and digital divides have put the most disadvantaged at risk of learning losses and dropping out.”

With mounting calls from unions to have schools closed again ahead of SA’s Covid-19 peak, there are concerns about the detrimental effects a reclosure might have on children’s schooling and other equally important benefits such as the school nutrition programme.

Both Khoza and Sithole said not writing their exams this year will delay their prospects of receiving tertiary education.

“I’ve dreamt of going to university for a long time. Even though I’d be shattered if I cannot write my final exams this year, I would try again. But the delay will hurt me,” Sithole said.

Roberts said other countries have cancelled their high-stake examinations or assessments, following a pronouncement made by Unesco.

The WHO advised countries not to reopen schools where there are high community transmission rates. This means that schools in communities with high transmission rates will have to endure disruptions.

Metsing said learners can try to manage the pressure by applying healthy learning habits.

“[They can] make time to go through the material before class. Create a structure (timetable) for reading”. But, more importantly, having a stable support structure made up of friends, family and peers can alleviate some of the pressure.

“Parental support is key… create space and support. Understand that the fear is real, but what’s important is for them to be able to verbalise their fears and it’s important that learners make their thoughts, their worries, their fears, to their family known,” Metsing said. DM

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Being in matric is not easy; doing it in the middle of a pandemic is not for the fainthearted

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South Africa: Being in matric is not easy; doing it in the middle of a pandemic is not for the fainthearted – Sarraute Educación María Magdalena

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