Advice for matrics in the year of the pandemic

Matric cerificate
Matric cerificate
Image: Supplied

Dear Grade 12 pupil.

I have received many calls from the Grade 12 class of 2020 and their parents over the past few weeks and I thought I should respond with some guidance as to how you can beat this matric year.

The Grade 12 year is challenging even under normal conditions; the pressure of your parents, the expectations of your teachers and your own plans for the future weigh heavily on your shoulders.

Then along comes this novel coronavirus that makes a high-pressure situation potentially worse. At least that’s how it feels when facing the most important school examination of your lives.

Here’s some advice on how to not only cope but excel in this year of the pandemic.

First of all, take big deep breaths, relax and try to see this viral threat in perspective. Unlike any other students of your generation, you are literally facing a battle between life and death.

If school and society had stayed open, we would be burying many more people than the number who have died so far.

I am sure you agree that staying at home to save your life and those of so many others around you is a much better choice. Enjoy this moment, because in it you can celebrate life.

Learning something new will give you a sense of accomplishment for when this lockdown is over

Second, if you find yourself anxious and stressed, try to do something about it. Do not read or watch the news for more than an hour a day because what you will find is wall-to-wall coverage of infections, hospitalisations and deaths. It can be quite depressing and frightening.

Tune in to some late-night comedy, read a book or watch Netflix (not pandemic movies like Contagion and I am Legend!) or walk around the house 10 times a day.

Take your mind off things, and if you are still feeling anxious please reach out to one of the online facilities offering expert help, like counselling professionals, or spiritual support from someone you trust in your faith community.

Third, create opportunities for laughter. My way of dealing with the anxiety of the moment is to watch my favourite late-night comedians on YouTube like Trevor Noah, Seth Myers and Stephen Colbert, all of whom are broadcasting their shows from home during the US lockdown.

Sometimes the laughter hurts, like this one from a so-called friend who knows I am a fanatical Blue Bulls supporter: "Hi there," he texted me this week. "There is an upside to the lockdown for you. The Bulls have not lost for weeks!" Very funny.

Fourth, establish a study routine. In other words, prepare yourself for the final examinations as if nothing has changed. Get up early, set a plan for the day (and week and month) so that you cover geography from, say, 8-10,  then a 30-minute break after which you solve some mathematics problems for two hours and then another break, and so on.

It might help you to do this with a friend in your class or grade (hint, preferably someone smarter than you on subject X or Y) and solve problems or examination questions together. You can call or WhatsApp questions and answers back and forth.

Fifth, do something completely new. The other day I asked followers on my social media to share one new thing they have learnt during the lockdown. It was amazing. I learnt to bake a cake. I discovered how to teach Grade 2 numeracy to my younger sibling. I have become something of an expert on Zoom and Teams.

Learning something new will give you a sense of accomplishment for when this lockdown is over. By the way, I have learnt how to play chess online against a distant competitor, which in this case is my potential son-in-law. I was ruthless, warning him that if he checkmates the king (that is me) I will not give him my daughter’s hand in marriage (do people still speak like that?).

Sixth, whatever you do, please do not fret about what will happen to the school year. The department of basic education will make a fair and reasonable plan about writing the finals, whether it is in October or in December or even in January, depending on when the president lifts the lockdown.

You will not be disadvantaged. And for those of you who applied to college or university, trust me, every one of our higher education institutions is working on a plan to ensure you can enrol without too much pressure in 2021.

Seventh, never doubt that this crisis will end. There will be treatments for the infected and a vaccine to protect humans from infection. Of course some things will change; for example, expect more online and blended learning in future rather than face-to-face teaching only.

But rest assured this pandemic will pass. You can be hopeful but for now, be safe and celebrate life.

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