Lessons Learned in Lockdown Limbo
Lockdown forced schools with the means to do so to switch to remote learning. As the local Church marks Catholic Schools Week, MARK POTTERTON sees promise for the future in that.
As soon as it became clear that the Covid-19 pandemic would impact on schooling, we at Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg began talking about how we would continue school using the online platforms available to us.
In the high school and in Grade 6, the teachers were familiar with Google Classroom, so that’s the technology they went with.
In the preschool they had used a platform called Seesaw. In the end the preschool mainly used WhatsApp — and did so very creatively, sending videos and photos of what children were doing.
In the primary school, study-packs and workbooks were sent home and teachers made use of e-mail and WhatsApp.
We decided from the start that we would make it personal and include weekly phone calls to the parents.
Engagement with parents on a popular platform like WhatsApp was very effective. It was easy and familiar.
In reviewing our programme one teacher said: “I really got to know our parents and our families. We have become so close.”
A parent gave this feedback: “Thank you for handling the class’ transition to online study so effectively. What could have easily been ‘remote’ schooling was a very connected and vibrant experience for Tim.”
The teachers took up the challenge to go online with enthusiasm.
Some of them made use YouTube videos to enhance the students’ learning experience, while others convened groups on Google meet.
A student’s feedback
One primary school student had this to say about what he was learning: “I am finding that learning and working with schoolwork at home is completely different to what it was at first glance.
“I find it a big change to be working with technology throughout the entire day and seeing my classmates’ written down statements and questions that are asking and answering things related to school, yet I’m not actually seeing them in front of me.”
The remote-learning experience gave this student better insight into his own interests: “I am particularly interested in biology and would certainly like to learn more about that. I started being interested in biology in Grade 5 when we were talking about human evolution and how there was one type of ape that did evolve to be a human and another that did not.
“If there is any chance, I certainly would like to learn more about biology when school comes back.”
Successes and challenges
We noted that the take-up of all the activities offered was not consistent in the senior primary school. Not all the students engaged with all the activities.
Another big challenge for us is that some of the parents are essential workers and have not been able to be at home with their children. This means that they’ve had to engage with their children after working hours.
Another challenge was that not everyone had enough airtime and bandwidth for WiFi at home. This was an obstacle particularly where our material was data-dense.
Some teachers noted that it was hard to “stop working”, as they were engaging with children and their parents most of the day. Some teachers were even contacted long after the normal working hours.
Another teacher said: “This has been a wonderful experience; I have learnt so much and I have done what I thought I never would do.”
She went on to say: “I really do worry about my children who struggle in class though, I am not sure that this is the best way for them to learn.”
So, while we were going full-steam on our digital approach in the main school, our Three2Six Refugee Support Project wasn’t that lucky.
The project serves out-of-school refugee children on three campuses, and doesn’t have the same access to technology.
This speaks loudly to the digital divide in our country and how children with little access to technology don’t benefit.
On the positive side, our Three2Six teachers did send messages and some work home—but this was limited.
We also did a radio broadcast on Radio Veritas.
Another challenge was ensuring that the food programme we offered in Three2Six continued during these tough times. We were fortunate to get food vouchers to families.
Providing high-quality online resources to the entire Catholic education network does hold some promise. If we share what well-resourced schools have and pool these resources, we’ll have the power to create a truly powerful learning platform that all Catholic schools could benefit from.
Mark Potterton is primary school principal at Sacred Heart College.