Covid19: What if we can’t go back to school?

Just before term 1 ended, the school where I taught had to close it’s campuses due to two families having had confirmed cases of the Covid-19 virus which they contracted during travelling. Almost overnight, as teachers, we had to shift our teaching methods from a blended learning model to a practically digital model. Though this was a stressful time for learners and parents alike, teachers now had to innovate to change the way in which they taught in order to make sure that quality learning would still continue.

If we are not allowed to return to school after the holiday, what can we do to ensure that this is a less-stressful experience?

Here are some things I’ve learned during our first week of remote learning:

Parents are probably more anxious than the kids and need to be supported

If your school is using a lot of technology, think about this: Imagine you are assisting a teacher in your school who has never used an online platform before and how daunting it is for them to even make use of a simple tool such as Kahoot! or GSuite in general. Now, overnight, as with the teacher you are assisting,  parents are expected to be masters of these tools and to be the facilitators at home.

Send some how-to resources out to parents, such as this handy guide for parents about using Google Classroom. I always say that happy teachers mean happy kids, and this applies to learning at home as well. If parents aren’t stressed about the tools they are needing to use, then the kids are also less likely to be stressed about using them.

If you have very demanding parents (as all schools have), ask them to get their kids to do the questioning and figuring out. In this way, they are not likely to fall behind and will learn during the process. For example, if a child is missing some notes needed for an assignment, I would suggest that parents let the kids post this in the online forum they are using (such as the Google Classroom). Kids can then help each other, and this also lessens the pressure on teachers to now all of a sudden be customer service or live chat agents!

If you have already been teaching using online tools, your task is halved.

Are you using GSuite for Education or Microsoft for Education? Then most of your work is probably online already and not on some flash drive, hard copy or your PC’s hard drive in your classroom. Now is the best time to move to the cloud. Start using Google Drive to upload your resources – even if you have to scan some stuff in and email it to yourself to upload to the drive, that’s also fine. You probably have a Classroom setup for your kids already.

If your school makes use of e-books, for example, Snapplify, kids can access their textbooks online, and it saves data by having it downloaded on their devices already. Teachers and students can also make annotations, upload resources such as videos and voice notes, and through Snapplify’s Engage platform, teachers can find 50 000+ books that are free to use. Search for readers in collections, and you will find books in many South African languages, ready to read! If you are looking for additional teacher resources, the Answer Series has also unlocked all of their books for free teacher use for an entire year

Everyone is offering free education resources – make use of it.

Always wanted to try out a platform to use in your class, but you weren’t sure whether you should pay for it or not? Many online education providers, publishers and content providers are allowing free use of their products at the moment. Now is the time to try it! In schools where teachers can’t always be online or assist learners remotely, these platforms will make a huge difference. Read more about Paper Video and Advantage Learn, who have both opened up their catalogues of online learning materials.

Reading is fundamental, and unfortunately, we may not be able to visit our libraries to loan books for our kids. Audible has released some excellent free audiobooks for kids to listen to. You can also find some excellent readers on Snapplify. Amazing Educational Resources, a list and Facebook group that you might have seen, lists thousands of companies who have some kind of free offering for teachers. It is, however, a bit overwhelming to search through everything. For stories in African languages, also check out the Molteno Institute’s library of resources.

Less is more, a routine is required.

Either, kids will fly through work at home, or they will feel overwhelmed and not get through everything set up for them. Teachers need to collaborate to create a timetable of sorts that gives kids more structure during their day. Yes, Maths and Language Learning is essential, but don’t forget about the other things that schools do to help kids develop holistically. Physical education, music and art can all be taught from a distance. 

Just how we are encouraged to not sit in our pyjamas all day when we work from home, we should also give kids some expectations about their days at home. You should be up and ready by 9am, and there will be a break at 10:30 until 11:00, there will be reading time after that, etc. It will help your children to know what to expect, just like at school!

Limit the amount of work given. In class, you might assign a specific amount of work and give “the rest” as homework. Now everything is homework! With parents not always around to help, and more often than not, only one computer in a household. Remember that families with more than one child will not be able to be online and engage with the lessons that you have posted.

Not all learners have access to the internet and devices to learn.

Old-school will work if you give kids and parents a lot of guidance. Just like you would provide a substitute teacher with a very in-depth explanation of what is expected of them while you are away, you need to do the same for your learners. Redesign your paper-based activities keeping in mind that your learners may not have any assistance at home. Make use of Whatsapp with parents and be available on email. Many parents might not even have access to email, so it will often work better to create a Whatsapp group with parents. You don’t have to be in it but can have a class representative parent that will ask you the questions when other parents cannot help.

Plan ahead and if you must, create work-packs that can be collected at school – just be careful not to have many kids come to school at once, as this might be against government regulations.

We are experiencing a scary and exciting time for education in South Africa. On the one hand, we are forced to innovate, which means that many teachers will forever teach differently. On the other hand, this is a trial-and-error phase, this has never been done before on this scale, and we must all try our best to make it a success. Only time will tell if the measures and effort that we have put in will pay off, but one thing is sure: parents will have a new appreciation for teachers!

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