Covid-19 Brings Students together for Home Schooling
A lockdown sleepover turns into a months-long co-schooling arrangement – and a learning opportunity for two Grade 8 learners
When Kia van Oerle and Thembi Moyo walked onto the grounds of Sacred Heart College in Observatory, Johannesburg, for the first time in January 2020, they were both feeling the new-school jitters. Both girls had qualified for scholarships – Kia a community leadership scholarship and Thembi a full academic scholarship – at SHC after completing their primary schooling elsewhere.
But Kia’s mom, Bridget van Oerle, says she doesn’t work in PR for nothing. “I spotted Thembi and suspected she was also a new girl. I asked her, ‘Are you new too?’ When she said yes I told Kia, ‘Here, you two are going to be friends,’ and I left them to it.”
Bridget had no idea how close that friendship would become. A few short months into the 2020 school year, Covid-19 was declared a pandemic and President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a three-week lockdown and school closure.
Sacred Heart College immediately switched to an online curriculum.
Sacred Heart College’s policy on scholarship students is that funds should be made available for uniforms, textbooks, travel costs and so on in addition to school fees, so that a lack of access to these items does not become an additional barrier to learning. So the school already ensures that scholarship students, in particular, have access to the iPads and airtime that would enable them to submit homework and assignments digitally.
But doing all learning, especially data-hungry video learning, online works best when you have a fast, stable and preferably unlimited WiFi connection, and the physical as well as mental space to learn.
“Kia came to me and said, ‘Thembi won’t be able to school online’,” remembers Bridget. Thembi lives in small quarters in Alexandra where there is no dedicated school space or reliable, unfettered access to the internet.
Says Bridget: “Kia said, can Thembi come stay with us for those three weeks?”
Bridget approached Thembi’s parents and a plan was formed. Thembi prepared to move in for the duration of lockdown. Bridget, who works from home, vacated her home office for the children. Both girls got a desk and a dedicated school space. In this way, they were able to approach school tasks as a mini-class of two, enjoying the benefits of peer-to-peer learning – while both being responsible for their own work, Bridget hastens to add. Soon, they settled into a routine of school, chores and down time.
But, as we all know, the initial three weeks of school closure turned into a far more disrupted year, with schools closing and opening again throughout the year. Thembi ended up spending much of her time at the van Oerles’ house.
“They had to navigate sharing a bedroom and they shared the chores, which they had to divide up between them: mopping, washing, dishes, vacuuming.” The girls became very close.
Both girls, while they have older brothers, are the only children who live in their respective homes. They had to learn to negotiate an almost sibling-like relationship, including the occasional conflict. At other times, their house resembled a girls’ boarding school, with the girls baking biscuits at midnight, or turning out and spring-cleaning a grocery cupboard for pocket money. “They did mad things and had adventures,” remembers Bridget.
“Thembi has become a second child for me,” says Bridget. She says both girls are feisty children with strong opinions, which can land them in trouble. “She’s fitted in with our family,” laughs Bridget.
As a single mom, Bridget says she’s valued the company for Kia, and the ability to pop out of home more easily, knowing there are “two of them at home for company”. While Thembi has enjoyed having space to learn, Bridget says Kia has learnt important lessons from their time together, too. “A lot of children forget in their privilege what others’ studying conditions might be like,” she says.
Bridget feels Sacred Heart College’s students are on the whole aware that not everybody has access to the middle-class comforts they may enjoy. Bridget is grateful Kia and Thembi have found their way into a “quirky group that hangs out together”, she says.
Sacred Heart College is a Marist Co-Educational school which provides innovative, values-based education from Playgroup to Matric. Visit website, www.sacredheart.co.za for more information.
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