Online and learning during lockdown

Colwaine Jacobs focusing on one of the tasks handed down by the teachers online.

Kronendal Primary School teachers might be on lockdown, but they are continuing to give their lessons online.

Google Classroom, the D6 Communicator and Class Dojo are some of the apps teachers are using to stick to their timetables.

Kronendal teachers Thalia Hansen and Marion Ives cover English and maths daily, with a range of other subjects taught twice a week.

“We are doing it slowly though, and it’s more revision and building on what the children know already. You can’t teach new concepts online. It raises way too much confusion,” Ms Hansen said.

The school uses Google Classroom to communicate and teach, but Grade 4s are using the Class Dojo app, which many of them were already familiar with before lockdown.

“It is a fabulous way to involve child and parent and allows us to interact with the children individually,” Ms Hansen said. “For those who can’t access the app, we communicate via WhatsApp. We have all the Grade 4s involved as much as we can.”

There’s uncertainty over when and how schools will reopen. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is due to table proposals before cabinet to overhaul the academic calendar to make up for lost time. The proposals include cutting the June and September holidays; deploying health workers to schools; moving November exams to December; adding another school day and extra hours to the school day; and introducing school camps or hostels.

“I think the lockdown has been a challenge for everyone, not just children,” Ms Hansen said. “Work wise, we have obviously fallen behind. The children are missing their friends, teachers, the routine etc. They are scared. There is going to have to be a lot of talking and reassuring to children about what is happening. I worry about my children all the time.”

Referring to herself as a “video star”, Ms Hansen has spoken to pupils in many of her videos as often as possible.

“Online lessons have to be done at a much slower pace. The first two or three days of lockdown, oh my hat, parents, kids and teachers swerved. So slowly does it is key.”

Ms Hansen said teaching online had to be flexible and it had to leave room for fun.

“We can’t follow the curriculum rigidly; it’s just not possible so we’ve included fun things for them to do, especially ones where the whole family can get involved. Great family building time. The experience has taught me that we can do anything we set our minds to. I was so scared and freaked out by the idea of teaching online. Now I love it.

“At this point, falling behind in the curriculum is really so unimportant as some people are worrying about family members or where the next meal is going to come from.”

Teachers create weekly schedules with daily tasks pupils work through at their own pace, spending anywhere between one and three hours a day on all their subjects.

The only times that are fixed are when teachers meet with their class using Google Meet.

Most of the teacher’s day is taken up with creating content such as videos, worksheets, quizzes and more, as well as marking work and communicating with pupils.

Ms Ives, who teaches Grade 7 maths and Grade 5 English, said many of Kronendal’s pupils had high-speed internet and various devices that made online learning possible, but she felt sorry for those who did not.

However, some parents and teachers had printed out learning materials for those pupils.

Ms Ives said 44 of her 53 maths pupils were online.

“I think it is a reasonable uptake, considering the diverse nature of Kronendal Primary,” she said.

“Everyone involved in online learning has gone through huge learning curves, and it would be a waste to throw this new-found knowledge away. We hope to incorporate at least some e-learning in the future in our day-to-day activities, even after classes resume.”

Grade 4 pupil Jet Newham-Blake said he had struggled to stay focused at home, surrounded by his toys and various screens, but the desire not to lose a day of learning had kept him on track.

“I still have to focus on school. The best part is seeing Ms Ives getting used to technology, seeing their lives at home, the fun activities she is giving us and not having to do all the work,” he laughed.

He said his mom kept him focused on the good things and he had started drawing maps of the world and sending them to Ms Ives.

“She loves them and encourages me to do more.”

He added: “Do what you can; we are all in this together. It won’t be forever.”

Principal Nathan Levendal said schools had had to find ways to adapt to unprecedented times.

Teachers had received a “very good response” from parents and pupils, he said, and parents were helping each other.

“Our school motto is ‘Let your light shine,’ and the Kronendal family is certainly shining brightly.”