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Eat, play, live: a Grade 12 guide to surviving the year of the ...


Eat, play, live: a Grade 12 guide to surviving the year of the pandemic

Believe it or not, there’s productive fun to be had in lockdown. Here’s advice on how to cope – and excel

Image: Tonny Tran on Unsplash

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. So, good morning.

The Grade 12 year is difficult and challenging even under normal conditions; the pressure of parents, the expectations of teachers and, of course, your own plans for the future weigh heavily on your shoulders. Then along comes the novel coronavirus that makes a high-pressure situation potentially worse. At least that’s how it feels for students facing the most important school examination of their lives. So here’s some advice, not only on how to cope but how to excel in the year of a pandemic.

First of all, take a deep breath, 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 stayed open, we would be burying a lot more people than the approximately 60 patients who have died so far. And I am sure you would agree that staying at home and saving your life (and others around you) is a much better choice than risking, well, everything. It sounds quaint, but just enjoy this wonderful moment in which you can celebrate life.

Second, if you find yourself anxious and stressed, try to do something about it. For starters do not read or watch news for more than an hour a day because what you will find is wall-to-wall coverage of infections, hospital admissions and deaths. It can be quite depressing. Tune into some late-night comedy or read a book or watch Netflix (not pandemic movies like Contagion and I am Legend!) or walk around the house 10 times a day. But take your mind off things, so to speak. And if you are still feeling anxious, please reach out to the many online facilities where you can receive expert help from 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 Meyers and Stephen Colbert, all of whom are broadcasting their shows from home during the American lockdown. By the way, only John Oliver has mastered the art of getting laughs without a live audience to give you that boost as a funnyman. 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.

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?).

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 exam questions together. You can call or WhatsApp questions and answers back and forth. Learning is, after all, a social activity.

Fifth, do something completely new. The other day I asked followers on my social media to share the one new thing that have learnt during the lockdown. It was amazing. I learnt to bake a cake for the first time. I discovered how to teach Grade 2 numeracy to my younger sibling. I have become something of an expert on Zoom or Teams. That kind of thing. Learning something new will give you a sense of accomplishment when this lockdown is finally 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 to write the finals, whether it is in October or in December or even in January, depending on when the president lifts the lockdown. Don’t worry about it. 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 that you can enrol without too much pressure in 2021. You see, the university not only needs you because they are funded on the basis of new students coming in (otherwise they collapse, quite frankly) but I believe they are genuinely excited about welcoming the smartest students onto their campuses.

Seventh, I need you to know that this crisis will come to an end. There will be treatments for the infected and a vaccine to protect humans from infection. Yes, of course some things will change; for example, expect more online and blended learning in the future rather than face-to-face teaching only. But rest assured, this pandemic will come to pass. You can be hopeful but for now, please be safe and celebrate life.