Thousands of school learners in South Africa are finding it hard to cope with the closure of schools since the government announced a national lockdown in March to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Matriculants, university students and student representatives told Inside Education this week that there has been significant levels of depression and anxiety among fellow learners following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement of a lockdown.
Matriculants are the hardest hit by depression and anxiety, according to Khumo Puso, a Grade 12 learner from Florida High School in Roodepoort.
“The lockdown has added a lot of academic pressure than I had in the beginning of the year because I feel that face-to-face interaction is more effective than the new methods put in place currently,” according to Puso.
“The lockdown makes me fear not only for my academics but my future because this is happening at a time when we as matriculants need to grasp everything within a short space of time. It gives me so much anxiety and adds to the stress I already have”, says Thato Bame, a grade 12 pupil at West Ridge High School.
Following the lockdown announcement, government said learners would be able to work from home in order for them not to miss out on school work and extra learning material would be available on the universities and education department’s websites, national radio and television channels.
Bame says at her school, learners have been making use of a ‘Google Classroom’, where the teachers upload some of their work.
She said they have also been studying through a WhatsApp group for some of their school subjects.
“It really isn’t easy for me because sometimes I don’t understand what is required of me and the teachers don’t fully explain like they would in a normal classroom setup”, said Bame.
NAPTOSA’s Basil Manuel told Inside Education that the level of resourcing for teachers is very important at this point because not all of them know how to access learning material online.
“We have been helping teachers to ensure they know where all the material provided by the government is, to make sure they are well equipped to assist learners”, said Manuel.
Manuel said they have not received communication regarding the replacing of teachers who lose their lives due to COVID-19, but will be meeting with the department to find a way forward.
He added that the biggest concern among teachers currently was going back to schools where the whole social distancing rule would be hard to implement in a class of more than 50 pupils.
“How do you tell Grade 1 learners not to hug each other when they see one another, how do you make sure they are far apart from one another during reading time of the carpet and most importantly, how do we convince and assure parents that their children will be safe at school”, asked Manuel.
University students have also taken a knock as direct teaching and learning plays a huge role in their academic life.
University of Rhodes first-year law student Kgabo Molele says even though lecturers are assisting them with school work, this has taken away her varsity experience.
“Being able to go to class, going to the library and then interacting with friends, that has been taken away because of this lockdown”, says Molele.
Molele says her biggest concern with online learning is that some of her fellow students will be stressed out as they either don’t have smartphones, laptops and or access to the internet.
Thabo Shingange, national spokesperson of the South African Union of Students, says before the lockdown, one of the sentiments shared was that students should not be forced to vacate residences on campus.
“Leaving the campus residence means some won’t have access to all the resources provided by the university, however here we are in 2020 with a pandemic and this has been made to seem like the only solution, not considering those that don’t have much”, said Shingange.
“Students that have access to social platforms are even contacting me via DM’s concerned about their academics”, said Shingange.
Earlier this week, the Department of Higher Education announced members of a new task team that will come up with solutions for higher learning institutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nzimande has established COVID-19 Teams for the Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Higher Education and Training, respectively.
The Department of Higher Education and Training team is led by the Deputy Minister Buti Manamela and is comprised of Universities South Africa (USAF), South African College Principals Organisation (SACPO), the South African Union of Students (SAUS), Labour Unions, Higher Health and the Department of Health to coordinate the PSET sector response to the virus.
Shingange, who is part of the task teams, says part of their task is to come up with solutions on the impact of COVID-19 on the education sector and find ways to move forward.
“We are happy, that myself and Palomina Jama from SAUS will be on the team and we can share our ideas about dealing with the issue at hand”, said Shingange.
Many have questioned whether the academic year is going to waste because no one knows long this virus will remind in the world and specifically in South Africa.
“The academic year hadn’t even started, students haven’t written any tests so at this point we can’t say the academic year has been wasted,” said Shingange.
Molele says she doesn’t think the academic year has gone to waste, adding that staff at her institution is trying by all means to stick to the plan of online learning, eve thought assignments and tests have been cancelled or postponed.
Shingange says students have been raising concerns about having to be home and studying from there.
The task team appointed by Nzimande is expected to meet and come up with solutions as soon as the country has entered its second week of the 21 day nationwide lockdown.