Bay teachers rise to the challenge of online lessons

Gateways Pre-Primary school principal Lindsay Steyn in a Zoom lesson for her grade R class
Gateways Pre-Primary school principal Lindsay Steyn in a Zoom lesson for her grade R class
Image: Supplied

With the old-school way of educating turned on his head, teachers have had to find innovative ways to continue lessons with their pupils remotely — and while it is a continuous game of trial and error, many deserve a gold star for their efforts.

No textbook has been written on how to teach a classroom during a pandemic but camera-shy or not, learning has continued at many schools, albeit via a cellphone.

While some schools in Port Elizabeth have the necessary tools to provide pupils with some form of learning, for others in the less-privileged areas, a lack of data, an internet connection and equipment is an ongoing struggle.

Walmer’s Gateways Pre-Primary School celebrated its 50th online Zoom lesson last week across its four classrooms.

Then, in a bid to ensure no-one was left behind, the school also created a “drive-through” where activity packs could be collected from the school’s parking lot without parents having to leave their vehicles.

Principal Lindsay Steyn said her teachers had risen to the challenge. They were resourceful and committed to seeing children connect and learn.

“We’re in a fortunate position in that we began our online teaching right away with activities and lessons on March 18, when schools closed.

“We have online lessons daily and have provided independent learning plans and resources for those not attending classes. We also record all our lessons, which they can download,” Steyn said.

The small school consists of two Grade 0 and two Grade R classes.

“Our primary concern remains the social and emotional development of our children — their mental health is our number one priority.”

But Gateways took things a step further when it announced a cut in school fees by more than half, in a show of support for parents who had suffered a loss in income due to the lockdown.

“We’re a community built on family ethos. We take care of each other and support one another. It takes a village to raise a child.

“For our children to continue to thrive, they need parents who feel supported and assisted. Many parents are facing the challenge of a reduced income and in some cases no income at all, so we need to do everything possible to support them,” Steyn said.

All staff continue to be paid in full from the school’s emergency fund.

Her advice to parents as they tackle the daunting task of homeschooling?

“Particularly in the early years, children learn through experiences and observation. Don’t put undue stress on yourself or your children out of fear they are falling behind. Your primary goal should be the mental health of your child. You are enough.”

For Solomon Mahlangu High School in KwaNobuhle, things have not been as smooth, but this is not for lack of trying.

Principal Nmcedi Mtengwana said initially pupils willingly participated in the WhatsApp lessons sent via voice notes but as time went on, due to a lack of data and some not having their own phones, numbers had dwindled.

The teachers, however, continued to do their part and were conducting lessons for those still able to participate via Zoom.

Mtengwana said his biggest worry was creating adequate physical distancing among the school’s 1,400 pupils when they returned.

The school did not have enough classrooms for the required physical distancing and they would have to make use of mobile classrooms.

“But with that is a need for more manpower,” he said, adding that a lack of masks was also an issue.

He was holding onto the hope of a donation.

“But many of our learners have indicated that they are keen to return to school and we keep encouraging them.”

St Dominic’s Priory School in Miramar set up virtual classes using Google Classroom. Some teachers also used WhatsApp and e-mail to communicate with pupils.

Principal Father Grant James said at some stage in the learning process the teacher was present for the pupils via voice, video or live call.

“We believe presence is vital for quality education. Someone even mused that the teachers are becoming YouTube stars before their hopeful pupils.”

James said one of the biggest challenges was that recording a five-minute instructional video often took the whole day for certain staff members as this way of teaching was completely new to them.

“The time and effort staff have invested is not always seen,” he said.

Another challenge was internet connectivity in some homes.

The school’s biggest concern, however, remained the matric class.

“When school resumes, the programme will focus almost entirely on academics and planning extra classes.

“For the lower grades, the education department has advised schools to trim the curriculum to cover the essential topics for the year. Our management team is contemplating this in a co-ordinated way.”

From a health perspective, James said, they were drafting a comprehensive safety protocol guideline that would be circulated to parents once they had received the relevant instructions from the government.

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