Covid lessons we must heed, lest we miss a once-in-a-generation chance
These insights have given us an opportunity to re-evaluate SA’s education system for the better
The pandemic is, hopefully, almost behind us. With the arrival of the first consignment of vaccines and the encouraging drop in the positivity rate to below 10% (9.15%), it is time to plan for a post-Covid-19 world. Reading and listening to the stories of how teachers experienced 2020, it is now possible to extract at least seven hard lessons from pandemic teaching for the future design of instruction and learning in SA.
One, we learnt that teachers are much more effective and pupils much more disciplined when classes are smaller. The decision to halve classes of 40 into two groups of 20 meant teachers could reach weaker pupils more easily and consolidate the teaching of concepts more thoroughly. Until now, small classes have been the reality of the more privileged schools, which could afford to hire extra teachers via fee structures. This must change. The only logic for large classes in ordinary public schools has been financial, not educational. Teachers in poorer schools thrived when pandemic conditions demanded smaller classes for social distancing. Government must take heed of this and revisit teacher-pupil ratios as the pandemic fog lifts.
Two, we learnt that parents are vital partners in their children’s learning. As schools locked down, the most effective tool for poorer schools to keep studying going were not online facilities, but, in limited cases, WhatsApp groups, though more commonly, printed materials collected from schools and sometimes dropped off at homes. Here’s the bad news. Most parents in disadvantaged areas did not have enough formal schooling themselves to teach their children in partnership with teachers. As a result, when schools reopened, alert teachers immediately noticed that despite their efforts to provide printed materials, little happened at home. The policy response is not to drop parents as partners, but to strengthen that potential link in normal times. That is, invest in empowering parents as teacher support from home, much like initiatives such as Math Moms have successfully done to empower mothers to learn mathematics to help their children with after-school learning. It can be done. Lockdown made the role of parents critical for continued learning, but many were not equipped for the task. There needs to be a plan to correct this...